I've written in this space before about the personal benefits of time-shifting (i.e., digital video recorders, podcasting, etc.) And while I'm not in the sweet spot of most advertisers these days (I'm just this side of 40), having been a card-carrying member of the "digerati" since long before the Internet was cool, I have generally behaved like a younger consumer of media.
That is to say, I've long been an early adopter of new technologies, devices, and means by which to consume media. I bought my first PalmPilot (actually, it was IBM's re-licensed version, the WorkPad) in 1996. I became a subscriber of online news and information via AvantGo almost from the getgo (The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, etc.). I used it for reading the news then, and I continue to use it for that purpose today. I don't subscribe to newspapers, and I rarely buy them off the newstand.
I got an e-book device (remember RocketBook?) back in 1999. That upstart e-reading company was long ago bought by Gemstar, and these days, I buy digital books and read them on my Tungsten Palm C.
When I got my first time-shifting device for television, an early ReplayTV device in 1999, I actually didn't watch much TV at the time. I was too busy travelling, working, or going out to industry functions in the evening. But that changed very quickly. With ReplayTV, I could watch what I want, when I wanted, without regard to a network TV schedule. I soon became a TV junkie, recording all kinds of shows that interested me and then watching them at my leisure.
Fast Forwarding to the Future's Past
I maintain that time-shifting continues to be a profound evolution of how media will be consumed moving forward. In a few more years, for kids who have grown up with time-shifting as part of their daily routine, the idea of watching a program at a specified time (save perhaps for time-dependent event TV such as sports programming) will seem as outdated as having rabbit ears sitting on top of your TV to get a better signal.
Despite the angst that time-shifting that caused most of the major media companies (What are we going to do when we find out all those people are skipping the commercials???), I was glad to see Nielsen Media Research announce today that they would begin measuring the viewing of digital video recorders starting next week.
Apparently in a response to those clients who do want to begin to learn how DVR use affects viewing, the Hollywood Reporter today ran a story announcing that Nielsen will start to offer three ratings per program and network: Live, Live/Same Day (same-day playback via DVRs), and Live+7 Day Ratings (live along with time-shifting up to 168 hours after airing).
To Follow the Money, Follow the Remote Control
While it's not yet evident how this information will impact the economics of the media landscape -- the article suggests it will create conflict, with the networks wanting higher rates for those programs with higher viewing, and advertisers challenging those ratings because they're still not certain if those ads are being skipped or not -- I think it's certain to rock the network model boat (judging from early negative reactions and threats of litigation, it already has). That's not necessarily a bad thing, and I think the learnings such data will bring about will more than balance out the interim economical disruption that the revealing of this information is likely to cause.
Google has already proven that in the digital realm, advertising is all about connecting the media exposure and the transaction, as well as all the data and metadata that surround that transaction, and the commercial broadcast industry is clearly going to have to find a middle way as they make this transition into the digital age.
But if Google's online success is any indication, then it's my belief that the opportunity for data-driven television is even more enormous. From ratings to direct e-commerce to participatory television, the wider pipes, bigger screens and asynchronous capabilities presented by digital cable, HDTVs and DVRs create a much more fertile pasture for TV to jump over their time-constricted chasm.
And never mind the benefits to the consumer. Just imagine being a kid and having the opportunity to interact with Big Bird or Bert and Ernie? Or using your TV to hold a real-time video-conference with grandma so that she can see how much the twins have grown? Or having Amazon-like "one-click" ordering off the TV set? It's only a matter of time, but over the longer time horizon, such opportunities will require more precise measurement and data and understanding.
Is this all a disruption or, as was with my case in my early adoption of the DVR, an enhancement? Here's my own research report: I refuse to watch TV anymore without a DVR (except for sports).
No, this Nielsen Media Research announcement won't serve as a panacea, but it's certainly a step in the right direction.
Now, if I could only find my remote.