Strategies Develop to Entice Viewers to Watch Shows On Schedule, not on DVR
By BRIAN STEINBERG Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL April 14, 2005
'Don't touch that dial!" has long been the mantra of many a TV network trying to get viewers to stay put during commercial breaks. These days, there is a new, more-urgent cry from the network suites: "Don't touch that DVR!"
As May approaches, so does some of the networks' most-compelling content: cliffhanger plots, shocking story turns, and season and series finales. Among potential highlights are this season's last, tension-filled episodes of "24" on News Corp.'s Fox; the series finale of "Everybody Loves Raymond" on Viacom's CBS; and the potential for enigma-solving on "Lost" on Walt Disney's ABC. If there is a place to take a stand against ad-skipping, this is it.
Consumers have long recorded programs for later viewing, and the nation's broadcast networks for years have promoted programs as must-see, don't-miss occurrences. With time-shifting, ad-skipping devices such as digital video recorders gaining more of a TV-room roost, however, getting couch potatoes to watch a show at its specified time is taking on new importance. That makes networks increasingly eager to lend scheduled programs the sheen of a live sports event or one-time-only spectacular.
"It's really about making the promotions much more of an invitation to an event that you can't miss," says Mike Benson, ABC Entertainment's senior vice president of marketing. Promos for the network's Sunday lineup, which includes the soapy smash "Desperate Housewives" and the newer hit "Grey's Anatomy," urge viewers to watch that night so as not to miss out on what others will talk about Monday.
Ad-skipping devices "are coming from more angles than we anticipated," says Robert Clauser, a partner in Accenture's media and entertainment practice. A new Accenture study says 2% of ads are skipped in all U.S. households. By 2009 that figure should rise to 22%. In addition, 40% of U.S. homes should have DVR devices by then, up from 8% at present, the consulting firm says.
Others are more skeptical. "We are wondering how big it will be over time," says John Miller, chief marketing officer of General Electric's NBC Universal Television Group. While DVRs will have an impact, he says, growth seems "slower than a number of people have imagined."
Deeper DVR inroads could pose problems for marketers who need ads to be seen at a certain time and date. Movie studios have long placed big bets on Thursday nights, in the hopes of driving viewers to catch the newest Friday-opening flick. Retailers often feature limited-time sales. What good are such ads if consumers view them days later?
In the near future, advertisers might ask networks if their shows are "water-cooler stuff that you want to be talking about the next day," says Roberta Haber, a senior vice president and a media director at Interpublic Group's Hill Holliday. "If that's the case, the media property can put a premium on that stuff, and buyers are going to want to go for it, versus things that are easily recorded."
Indeed, the bait networks use to lure viewers may be changing. One of the ways CBS will promote the end of "Everybody Loves Raymond," for example, is telling viewers to be part of the nation-spanning family that is bound to tune into the show, says George Schweitzer, president of CBS's marketing group. When it comes to reality programming, promotions could create the sense that watching the show as scheduled is better than recording it and hearing about it on morning-talk programs the next day, he says.
Network promotions might not directly address the threat of digital recorders quite yet, but a time may come when such jockeying is necessary. "I wouldn't shy from that," says Chris Carlisle, executive vice president, marketing and promotions, for Fox Broadcasting. At present, however, "I just don't think it speaks to the broader audience." Someday, of course, it might, and the networks could go after their time-shifting nemeses like Pepsi does Coke.