Study Debunks The TiVo Effect

According to a recent study from Duke University, the use of TiVo and other DVRs hasn’t hurt television advertising or changed consumers’ buying behavior. In fact, Carl Mela, a professor in Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, said the ability to fast-forward through commercials has had no effect on buying behavior. Mela also noted that not as many people fast-forward through television commercials as originally thought.

Years ago, some people thought that digital video recorders such as a TiVo, which lets users record TV programs and make it easy to fast-forward through commercials, would kill TV commercials all together. That's obviously not the case today: If you watch TV for a few minutes, you're bound to see a commercial.

“Companies are afraid of a ‘TiVo effect’ and are changing their media spending as a result,” says Mela. “But we find no change in people’s shopping patterns when we compare a group that has TiVo with a group that doesn’t. The manufacturers’ fears seem to be overstated.”

Mela explains the lack of impact on consumer spending in a few ways. First, he points out that about 95 percent of people watch live television. As a result, these users cannot fast forward through commercials. Secondly, Mela notes that even users who don't have a DVR can skip commercials by flipping channels or walking out of the room for a minute.

Furthermore, users who fast-forward through commercials when watching a recorded show still tend to watch the screen so they know when to resume playback. In doing so, these users are still being exposed to the advertisements. Finally, users tend to watch more TV if they have the ability to record a show and watch it on their own schedule.

Interestingly enough, Mela began the study with the intentions of measuring how bad DVRs were for commercial advertisers and consumer product manufacturers. He couldn't do it: “We tried a vast array of methodological approaches to find a DVR effect. And we just couldn’t,” he says.