Time-shifting: A key benefit of podcasting. A ‘frenemy” of broadcasting.

This week, the broadcast TV networks pitched their upcoming schedules to advertisers in an annual television industry ritual known as “the upfronts.” Back in the what both sides now must think of as the Good Old Days of linear TV before TiVo and YouTube, the networks extolled the strengths, not just of individual shows, but of an entire evening’s prime-time lineup.

But according to an article in last Monday’s NY Times, the days of the “lineup” may be numbered. Recent Neilsen ratings report that prime-time viewership of the 4 broadcast networks is down by 6 million viewers compared to a year ago.

A major reason appears to be the increasing popularity of time-shifted consumption — one of the primary benefits of podcasting. Viewer are recording on DVRs, using cable on-demand services, purchasing TV episodes on iTunes and going to advertising- supported streaming sites such as Hulu and Fancast.

DRVs are the most popular time-shifting technology, with one in four households using them, a 10% increase in the past year. The DVR has forced the networks and Neilsen to revise the traditional ratings metrics to include shows watched within three days of being originally broadcast, which has boosted the ratings of some prime-time shows by as much as 25%

The articles quotes Alan Wutzel, the head of research for NBC as saying that “he DVR is both a friend and an enemy for the networks, “the classic frenemy.” The good news is that time-shifting is enabling viewers to watch more television because they can watch at their convenience. They bad news is that, on average, DVR viewers skip about half of the commercials that make those shows possible.

For advertisers, television continues to offer the greatest immediacy, persuasive impact and broadest potential audience. Measuring the effect and value of advertising has always been a black art (“I know that half of my advertising is working, I just don’t know which half,” is the classic connundrum), and it now seems trickier than ever.

Personally, after using TiVo for the past six months, I rarely watch a program at the time of broadcast even when I can. If there’s something on at 8 PM tonight that I’ll want to talk about at the watercooler tomorrow morning, I’ll set it to record, and start watching it at 8:15, just so I can skip the commercials.

No wonder advertisers are buying space on airplane overhead compartments, urinal deoderant cakes and bald heads.

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