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Daytime's DVR Threat

For the past few years, the Syndicated Network Television Association (SNTA) has been pitching advertisers that day-and-date syndicated programs hold on to more of their viewers because people continue to watch in traditional ways: when they are scheduled and without skipping commercials.

But like everything else in television, that's changing.

According to a study of 800 daytime television viewers age 18 through 54 by New York-based Frank N. Magid Associates, 25%-50% of the audience of any given daytime show is being time shifted onto digital video recorders (DVRs). More than one-third of the people surveyed had DVRs, while one in five said they were planning to get one. The survey looked at 25 daytime shows, including all the network soap operas, seven court shows and eight talk shows.

What's more, DVR viewing of shows from other dayparts—watching primetime premieres in the afternoon, for example—is beginning to compete with real-time daytime viewing. “People are really starting to use DVRs to shift into the daypart,” says Dan Wilch, senior VP, consulting, at Frank N. Magid Associates. “If Desperate Housewives was on last night, I've got my Desperate Housewives on during the day.”

And the number of DVR homes is growing, says SNTA. According to Nielsen, 23% of homes have a DVR, and it's even higher among adults 18 to 49, jumping to 29%. Media buying agency Magna Global projects that by 2010—only one broadcast season away—32.5% of all households will have a DVR.

“I would tend to agree that historically syndicated shows are less recorded and that syndication is lagging behind primetime in terms of vulnerability,” Wilch says. “But we've all got our heads in the sand if we think that's going to continue.”

In September, SNTA released a study that said 85% of syndicated shows still are watched live versus 60% of network primetime. Perhaps more importantly, viewers of syndicated shows watch more than 70% of the commercials during playback. Comparatively, viewers who record network primetime programs skip 60% of the advertising, reports SNTA.

But DVRs don't distinguish dayparts, so all television is the same to a TiVo: “The bigger issue is that DVR viewing starts to eat away at two things: loyalty to a program and how it becomes part of people's daily habit,” Wilch says.

DVRs aren't the only innovation that's changing the way people spend their time. Magid has been conducting this study of the daytime landscape for several years, and this is the first time the firm has found that people are spending more of their spare time surfing the Web than they are watching television.

“In the short term—the next three to five years—the people who are going to be the most reachable and watch TV the way they used to tend to be older and more downscale viewers,” Wilch says. “Over the long term, the bigger dilemma is that the DVR and the infiltration of other media are really eating away at the way people watch television.”

The study did turn up some good news. In terms of content, daytime viewers seem to be looking for light, fun fare and finding it in Warner Bros.' The Ellen DeGeneres Show, the season premiere of which was up 16% over last year's.

Says Wilch: “We asked people who had sampled each of the 25 different programs we looked at, and Ellen DeGeneres surpassed all other programs. We haven't seen anyone surpass all other programs in the history of doing this survey. It speaks to the enthusiasm of those who watch her. Often, it's predictive of where a show's ratings are going to go. If a show offered the information of Oprah and the fun of Ellen, that show would hit a home run.”