I was reading an interesting article at the NYT on DVRs and how they may be helping shows, on the edge of cancelation, make the cut. DVRs, digital video recorders, were supposed to ruin network television at least that is what people thought. Now that people don't have to choose one show over another due to time constraints show's viewership numbers are not so cut and dry anymore.
Networks get payed by advertisers for how many viewers watch their commercials in a 3 day period after the show is broadcasted. Shows get a C3 rating showing the number of viewers watching their show live and on playback over a three day period. Even though the C3 rating only includes 3 days after broadcast the networks track shows for a whole week to get a better idea of the viewers interest and loyalty concerning any particular show. Shows like "Fringe" show a weak 1.7 rating which would look bad to advertisers, but after a week of playback the numbers jumps to a much stronger 2.5 rating. That's a 47% increase in viewership which is significant.
Thanks to the DVR people can watch shows much later from the original air date, giving shows with poor live viewership a much larger audience over all. Without data from DVRs shows would seem to be doing poorly when actuality they are doing quite well.
The big question is, does it make any difference, from a monetary perspective, whether or not a show has a large playback audience or not? Sure, adding a full week of playback numbers to a show's over all rating can display a shows true potential, but people don't watch commercials on DVR. People watching commercials is what makes the network money and pays for the show. So if show's live viewership isn't high enough the network doesn't make enough money.
On the other hand if a full week of playback and Live viewership was considered in the rating shows my stick around long enough to become the show people want to watch live, instead of recorded it and watching it later, making them a bigger money maker for the network.
It's all very interesting, and according to David F. Poltrack, the chief research officer for CBS, the DVR saturation is about 40% up from 38% of last year. So it's no wonder some shows are seeing 30% - 40% of their viewers watch on payback. The chart below shows numbers from September 2010. The C3 + 3 include playback numbers for each of the top 10 shows.