The truth about how much live TV we’re watching

The CW, home to ‘Arrow,’ sees the biggest DVR playback of any network.

The CW, home to ‘Arrow,’ sees the biggest DVR playback of any network.

Author: Toni FitzgeraldSource: MediaLife

Yes, our viewing habits are shifting, but it's happening slowly.

When we talk about DVRs, it’s with the understanding that time-shifting is growing.

Live ratings are down, after all, and every year DVR playback hits new heights in the fall, when all the new shows reach the air.

It’s even tempting to characterize a huge portion of TV viewing these days to be happening via time-shifting, based on what kind of buzz it gets.

But while DVR use is on the rise, the vast majority of TV viewing remains live, according to a new study. The research, done by time-shifting service TiVo, finds that 80 percent of all broadcast TV viewing still takes place live.

Eighteen percent is shows time-shifted up to three days, and the final 2 percent is programs time-shifted in four to seven days.

On cable, the live viewership number is even higher, 91 percent. Nine percent watch DVR shows, and 1 percent watches on four- to seven-day playback.

“We know from Nielsen data that news, sports, and kids’ programs are overwhelmingly viewed live,” says Dr. John Morse of Byron Media.

“And we also know that movies and the popular broadcast dramas get recorded the most. Although there has been no measurement of the OTT services (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, Crackle), I expect to see significant recording/playback.”

Bigger primetime gains

When you look at only primetime, the percentage of DVRed shows rises, with broadcast up to 74 percent and cable rising to 88 percent.

Three-day DVR viewership in primetime is 23 percent for broadcast, with 3 percent watching on days four to seven. For cable primetime the number’s much lower, 11 percent watching through three days and 1 percent from days four to seven.

What’s it mean that the vast majority of viewership remains live? It’s a reminder that while change is coming to television, it still develops at a relatively slow pace.

It may sound as though more time-shifting takes place than the numbers suggest because of advertisers’ recent obessession with Millennials, who are changing their patterns more quickly. Among them, the percent of live TV viewing is much lower.

Plus, there are certain networks that see much bigger gains through DVRs, which may make it seem as though time-shifting is much more popular than it is.

The CW, for instance, is only viewed live 56 percent of the time, reflecting its huge percentage of young viewers.