TV station branding threatened by PVRs


A major study on personal-video-recorder usage, obtained by Electronic Media, suggests that TV networks' current emphasis on branding may become irrelevant in the PVR era.

The study, from Marietta, Ga.-based consulting firm NextResearch, surveyed more than 340 of the nation's early-adopting PVR owners. It concluded that 63 percent of current PVR owners are watching more television than they did before owning the device, but that about one in eight (12 per cent) have "no idea" of which channels the shows being watched were originally on.

"This has tremendous implications for television networks," according to a summary of the study, "since if this trend continues the network may cease to be a recognizable consumer brand, and network lineups will have less impact on a viewer who no longer identifies their favorite shows with the network on which they are broadcast."

That 12 per cent is a significant number, according to Everett Wallace, NextResearch's chief technology officer, because the technology is so new that his expectation before doing the study was that such a pattern would only assert itself "over time."

Of particular interest to the advertising industry is the finding that the same percentage of viewers skip through television commercials with PVRs as fast-forward through them with VCRs. According to Wallace, that figure is around 25 per cent in both cases.

Other results of the study find that almost one-third of all current PVR-enabled viewers already have bought additional units, suggesting that PVRs eventually will find their way to every television set in the home. While almost two-thirds of the study's respondents say they are watching more TV since getting a PVR, almost one in six (16 per cent) claim to be watching "much more" television.

The study also finds that around one in three PVR owners are hooking the devices to the same TV that is already connected to a VCR. "These PVR owners are using their VCRs as extended storage for their PVRs, pointing out the importance of including features on future PVRs that make this process as fast and easy as possible," the study summary says.

NextResearch estimates the number of PVRs currently in consumers' homes at approximately 300,000; other estimates place the number at up to 400,000.

The study finds that 47 per cent of study respondents have TiVo and 35 percent have ReplayTV. Only four per cent have UltimateTV, a result Mr. Wallace attributed to that product's relatively recent arrival on the market. About one percent of those surveyed have "no idea" what brand their PVR is, responding with a variation of: "It came with my satellite dish."

About 900,000 PVRs will be in homes by the end of this year, and "in excess of 40 million homes" will have them by the end of five years, according to Joshua Bernoff, Forrester Research principal analyst. Bernoff recently predicted a 20 per cent drop in the overall viewing level of TV commercials within five years, attributing the falloff to the coming mass-market acceptance of the PVR.

"Television in which you sit through the commercials is about to be replaced," he said. The PVR, according to Mr. Bernoff, "degrades the value of advertising."

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