As TV Screens Grow, So Does U.S. DVR Usage

As TV Screens Grow, So Does U.S. DVR Usage

Pat McDonough (SVP), with additional research and analysis from Chad Dreas (VP) and Zach Kennedy

Over the last 60 years, televisions have evolved to have slimmer profiles, larger screens and sharper pictures. Additionally, the devices delivering the content to these new high-tech screens have changed significantly and more rapidly — helping us watch what we want when we want it.

Then (1960): 7% of households received cable.

Then (1990): 56% received cable and 66% owned a VCR.

Then (2006): 89% of TV content is viewed live.

  • DVR usage accounts for 1.6% of our TV time.


  • 98% of homes own a TV and most have some kind of device hooked up to their television.
  • 85% of TV content is viewed live.
  • DVR usage accounts for 8% of our TV time.

Among the three major devices connected to our TVs (video game consoles, DVRs and DVD players), DVRs account for the greatest percentage of Americans’ watching time.  Since 2006 the percentage of time we watch live TV in the home has fallen from 89 percent to 85 percent.  However, the amount of time each person spends viewing TV content (live or timeshifted) actually increased by 19 minutes year-over-year in the first four weeks of the 2011 season. In short, we’re watching more, but more frequently on our own schedules.

The percent of DVR usage has grown fivefold from a mere 1.6 percent in 2006 to almost 8 percent in 2011, and DVRs are adding time to our TV day by allowing us to watch shows airing at the same time. Leading the trend in DVR usage are females 18-54, who allot almost 10 percent of their TV viewing time to a DVR.

In 2006, only 2.2 percent of people 18-49 tuned in to both American Idol and NCIS, the top two programs that both aired at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays.  However, in 2011, 7 percent of people 18-49 watched Castle and Hawaii Five-O on Mondays at 10 p.m.

While usage of DVD players has decreased across every demographic since 2007, video game consoles have seen a rise. Since 2006, video game console usage has increased almost 40 percent from 2.7 percent to 3.9 percent of total TV time.  The trend in console usage is driven by teens, who spend almost 11 percent of their total TV time engaged with a video game console.

Ethnic viewing trends

While watching the least TV of any ethnic group at 49 hours and 14 minutes during the first four weeks of the broadcast season (Sept 2011), Asians 18+ substantially increased the amount of time they spent consuming traditional TV (Live TV and DVR playback), adding more than 50 minutes to the 2010 average.  By contrast, African-American and Hispanics 18+ actually spent less time watching TV in 2011 compared to 2010.

Asian homes also allocated the least amount of time to live TV (81% of total viewing) while leading all ethnic groups with the largest percentage of their TV interaction devoted to DVRs and DVD players.  Hispanic homes ruled the game console, however, as they dedicated more than 3 hours and 30 minutes of their TV interaction (5.4%) to a gaming system during the first four weeks of the broadcast season.  African-American homes, despite only spending 3.5 percent of their time utilizing a DVD player, led the way in total usage, devoting almost 3 hours of their 85 total TV hours to DVDs.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge