Time-shifting. It's all the rage. Many refer to the practice as 'TiVoing' or 'DVRing' or heck, even the antiquated and totally inaccurate 'taping'. What it is is digitally recording a program and replaying it at a later time (and if you are like me, gleefully skipping through the commercials).
For the networks, it's an interesting trend and a dilemma.
Read this USA Today article for details, but I'll pull out one bit:
For some shows, time-shifting accounts for most of the falloff. Last year at this time, only 5% of the homes in Nielsen's sample had the recording devices; now 15.8% do. That has sparked a wider gap between ratings for shows watched live — the only yardstick used by Nielsen last year — and those watched within seven days of their initial airing.
"If you look at live plus seven-day viewing, those declines for several shows start to vanish," says Fox's Preston Beckman. Lost lost 14% of its live viewing this season, but when time-shifting is factored in, the show is down only 1%. The Office, down 10%, is actually up 2% with delayed viewing included.
"We can't really examine things in the same mind-set that we did a year ago," ABC research chief Larry Hyams says.
You ask "what does this have to do with writing for TV?" EVERYTHING. The networks are still the primary source for scripted series, drama and comedy. While there is certainly a gain in the number of cable shows, most people are still going to be looking to the networks for signs of where the jobs will be. The DVR revolution is coming. To go from 5% to 15% of households using DVRs is enormous. If this pace continues, Nielsen will have better luck measuring the viewership of test patterns.
Already Nielsen has reacted to this new trend and is attempting to develop new ways to measure ratings for shows, based on timeshifting. The problem is with the advertisers, not the networks.
The advertisers believe (mostly rightly) that people who record shows to watch later are skipping through the commercials to watch the program. If you aren't watching commercials, there's no reason to advertise. If there's no reason to advertise, networks lose money. If networks lose money...well, I think you see where this is going.
Keep an eye on this. Some people are considering this the 'tipping point' for networks focusing more on content for the internet or VOD. We'll only know by looking back on this time, but for now, we must all be aware of the changes to the status quo.