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Small Screen, Big Picture: Looking at Programming Genres Through a Time-Shifting Lens

3 minute read | October 2019

With more content today than most of us know what to do with, what defines a hit is undoubtedly different than 20 or 30 years ago. But HOW we define a hit is perhaps more important.

After all, different types of programming hold sway over different types of viewing behavior—from the live, must-see action of a sporting event to the carefully curated consumer experience of a drama, which might be sitting on that DVR “shelf” as a viewer waits for the perfect moment in the week to uncork it. 

When the media industry—be it the critics weaving in viewing metrics to complement their POV to programming decision-makers weighing the ratings—considers defining a hit in measurement terms, it’s crucial that the full viewing audience is considered. Anything less would be a short-sighted slight to the content creators operating in a $72 billion advertising gauntlet as well as to the fans who simply might not be able to make the live airing and opt for this delayed viewing. 

Simply put, when all viewers matter, all viewing should matter as well. Given that in the first quarter of 2019, U.S. adults (18+) spent nearly four hours each week watching delayed, or time-shifted, viewing (via VOD or DVR), accounting for this time is a critical consideration.

Nielsen looked into how consumers lean into delayed viewing of TV content over broadcast and cable and found that the proliferation of ways to view content has also helped influence them to be more patient viewers, tuning in past live, same day and even seven days.

In fact, among all genres of programming at the beginning of the last television season (October 1 to December 30, 2018) traditional viewing beyond live or same day out to 35 days actually provided a 10% lift in viewing. That accounts for an average of 2.7 million more viewers connecting with this content beyond live or SD! And among persons 18-49 the lift is higher at 14%, or 1.1 million viewers, respectively, over the same time period.

This trend becomes more pronounced, however, depending on specific genres of programming and the demo that is using delayed viewing options.

For instance, over the same period in Q4 2018, delayed viewing beyond live+SD and up to 35 days helped drive ratings 40% higher for primetime dramas among all people and 65% higher among consumers 18-49. Looking at some of the more popular types of programs among consumers found that even at the low end of the spectrum beyond same day viewing provides lifts of upward of 20%.

For marketers seeking to reach and activate audiences that are, in turn, actively seeking content out, being able to understand and connect with a group of engaged viewers is an opportunity that might be hard to pass up. Conversely, content owners or those looking to leverage data, from research teams to media outlets, have an impetus to take into account the added value that delayed viewing often brings and not discount the full viewing picture.

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