What a surprise. Once again, the experts still haven’t figured out the DVR

Today, the New York Times has a story that was DVR’d two years ago and re-played today.

2007 story: Viewers Fast-Forwarding Past Ads? Not Always

2009 story: DVR, Once TV’s Mortal Foe, Helps Ratings

I remember that previous story because I blogged about it at the time (more on that in a minute).

Today’s story rounds up some industry experts who seem dumbfounded that users of DVRs actually like TV and use their DVR to time-shift the programming they enjoy. And, what’s more, viewers don’t always fast-forward through the commercials.

Ironically — but stereotypically — the experts seem perplexed by this:


Why would people pass on the opportunity to skip through to the next chunk of program content?

According to Brad Adgate, the senior vice president for research at Horizon Media, a media buying firm, is that the behavior that has underpinned television since its invention still persists to a larger degree than expected. “It’s still a passive activity,” he said.

First off, I think it’s wonderful that a guy named Adgate would feel compelled to pursue a career in researching what commercials we watch. However, I think he’s missing the point of a dynamic of TV viewing enabled by the DVR — as did the experts in 2007.

The story in 2007 also rounded up some experts who marveled that people who have DVRs don’t always fast-forward through commercials. Their reasoning was much like that of Adgate’s: People are lazy and are programmed to sit passively through commercials.

I disagreed then and suggested it might help if the experts actually started using a DVR before coming up with wild theories.

Back then, I offered some counter-intuitive reasons for the not-fast-forwarding phenomena — which I still believe are as good as those from the so-called experts:

1. People who are holding the remote control in their hand are extremely aware of the commercials being zoomed through. They must be to learn the visual cues that alert them that the commercial block is about to finish. Often, the person with the control is being judged by a second party for their finesse in stopping the fast-forwarding at the precise time it needs to stop, so, therefore a second party is also engaged in looking at the sped up commercials.

2. As a hardcore DVR user, I’ve come to the conclusion that one-location, continuous-scene ads are more likely to cause me to stop and view them. Those who create Apple advertising understand this — or are lucky. Both the iPod and “I’m a Mac” campaigns have visual cues that hold together for the entire 30 seconds of the commercial. The scenic context of the ad remains the same for the entire 30 seconds. The first time I see a new commercial that appears within that context, I’ll stop and view it. Sometimes, I’ll stop and view it again. Subsequently, every time I see it as I fast-forward, I recall it.

3. Even though I’ve used a DVR for over a year — and use it a lot — I still sometimes forget that I can fast-forward through a commercial as, even with a DVR, the TV is on in the background of something else I’m doing — most likely, on my computer. Which begs the other obvious question to advertisers: Do you really think people are sitting there watching your commercials even if they don’t have the ability to fast-forward through them. No, they use that time to focus on the other two or three things they are doing while they watch the programs.

4. Once you use a DVR to watch any type of program that has commercials embedded in it, you realize how much advertising you are subjected to in the typical one-hour of network TV. You grow queazy at the thought.