The rising popularity of digital video recorders seemed to spell doom for U.S. prime-time TV because the technology lets viewers skip ads, but a study to be released Wednesday shows DVRs are probably replacing DVD viewing, not television.
More than 90 percent of people surveyed in May by Knowledge Networks Inc., a market research firm, said they typically watch TV during the prime-time hours of 8 p.m. to midnight, a rate similar to what the company found four years ago.
But 19 percent of respondents now have DVRs, five times the proportion in 2004.
"Increased DVR usage seems to come at the expense of watching purchased video," said David Tice, director of The Home Technology Monitor at Knowledge Networks, who noted that DVD sales have been falling for several years.
The survey did not ask viewers about shows or movies they watched online.
About 4 percent of respondents said they watched TV outside their homes this year, down from 7 percent four years ago, perhaps due to the increase in high-definition programs and channels. Twenty-eight percent of respondents said they owned an HD TV set.
Knowledge Networks noted that more than one in 10 viewers watched an HD program in any given prime-time hour.
The number of viewers who tune in during prime-time for a specific show rose — to 48 percent in 2008 from 41 percent in 2004.
But Tice said viewers are not as tied to broadcast programs or schedules as before. People want to be entertained, usually having just had dinner and before going to bed, and if they can't find anything on TV, they'll watch video on their DVRs and from other sources.
At any given hour, 8 percent of recorded content being viewed came from the DVR, up from 4 percent four years ago, the survey said. The rest of recorded content came from DVDs and video tapes.
Viewers aged 13 to 29 were more likely to change channels during commercials in prime-time than people in other age groups. Members of this group, known in the survey as millennials, also are more apt to watch TV outside their homes once a week.
The rise in DVR viewing among consumers means networks, ad agencies and advertisers need to think of ways to keep people from skipping their ads, Tice said. Companies must embrace alternative ways of reaching viewers without neglecting their traditional audience.
"Fewer people are watching their ads and that's what pays the bills," he said.
Knowledge Networks recruited 814 randomly selected people ages 13 to 54 by phone. They responded to questions in an online survey. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.