One would expect other members of the worldwide entertainment industry to learn the lessons from the disastrous impact music distribution on the web had on the music world – dwarfing the majors of yesteryear into shadows of their past.
Not so. At least in Germany, the private broadcasters have decided to fight a new technology rather than take advantage of it.
The enemy of the channels are the EPGs and the PVRs, and the broadcasters seem determined to battle it out. They prohibit cable operators and websites from publishing advance programme listings and are taking EPG publishers who do not comply with their demands to court.
The past few months have seen a bitter EPG war with ProSiebenSat.1 not only taking publishers of electronic media but also print publishers to court. It seems the broadcasters fear that by publishing these data far in advance will make people record programmes rather than watch them live – and as a result they will have lower audience figures and consequently have to ask lower rates for their airtime.
But is this fear based on facts? During this year’s ANGA Cable David Whittaker from NDS had some interesting facts and figures to show that fighting such developments is counterproductive. Sure, he is employed by a company that benefits from new technologies such as EPGs and PVRs, but the research was done by others.
In both the UK and the US, PVR usage has passed the ‘early adapter’ stage and we can now better judge viewer behaviour with such devices. What we learn is that live TV viewing and live TV advertising is down indeed, but people watch more TV overall and also view more ads.
The results are quite staggering: in the UK Sky homes watch 17% more TV when they convert to Sky+ (over 20 minutes more per day). 82% of viewing in PVR homes is of live broadcast TV.
There is some commercial zapping, but 45% of recorded breaks are watched at normal speed. As a result, homes with Sky+ see 2% more ads ‘as live’.
The same phenomenon seems to be happening in the US. Nielsen reports that time-shifting of TV shows is extending prime time to later in the evening. So, playback from PVRs is increasing the amount of time people spend watching television.
Actually this shouldn’t come as a surprise: broadcasters tend to showt their most valuable programming during prime-time – but people can only watch one programme at a time. So with a PVR they can now watch two or even three programmes that were broadcast at the same time one after the other.
Experience in both the US and UK, both (almost) mature PVR markets, suggests that PVRs help rather than hinder broadcasters. New viewing habits should be reflected in audience research in order to obtain proper data.
In theory, this could even lead to an increase in advertising income rather than a fall, thanks to better viewing figures for prime-time programming.
Of course, German private broadcasters might prefer to continue to stick their heads in the sand. One day, though, they might find out they are not so ‘major’ anymore.