Your Digital Video Recorder might not have found Sarah Conner yet, but it seems to be responsible for the disappearance of six million primetime TV viewers since last May. Some of the miserable ratings of this year's crop of primetime shows could be laid at the feet of the writer's strike, but that really can't explain the whole number. It's starting to dawn on the TV industry that there's no such thing as primetime anymore.
...the more significant shift can’t be blamed on the strike. In the past television season, there has been a sharp increase in time-shifting. Some of the six million are still watching, but on their own terms, thanks to TiVos and other digital video recorders, streaming video on the Internet, and cable video on demand offerings. So while overall usage of television is steady, the linear broadcasts favored by advertisers are in decline.
The mystery, then, is what the networks should do now.
Brad Adgate, research director of the advertising agency Horizon Media, said that advertisers were paying attention to the changes.
“Part of the reason why advertisers buy television is because of its immediacy,” Mr. Adgate said. As more consumers time-shift their viewing, “there becomes less of a difference between ads in magazines and ads on television.”
To a TV viewer, the idea that a TV ad would be comparable to a magazine ad is no big deal. But that's a death sentence to the revenue model for TV programmers, who have been able to charge an enormous premium for ads shown during "must see" television entertainment. If they can't assemble a prime audience in real-time that can be measured, they can't sell ads for a premium.
Listen, none of you readers tell anyone at the TV studios that on top of not watching what they offer at the time they want us to watch it, when we digitally record television programs, we skip the ads completely on playback. That doesn't seem to have occurred to them yet, and it'll break their little hearts.