DVR viewing has pumped the already successful comedy

For ABC’s “Modern Family,” the third season has been the charm.

Already a two-time Emmy winner for best comedy and an advertiser’s dream because of its very upscale audience skew, the 20th Century Fox TV laffer continues to grow in the ratings and recently shot to the top of the rankings among adults under 50 for the first time — with a big assist from the DVR.

When Nielsen’s full-week DVR playback numbers for the last week of February came in on Monday, the ABC comedy had leapfrogged several other shows that ranked ahead of it in the same-night results released a couple of weeks earlier. It actually achieved the feat in all four weeks of the sweep month, beating out heavyweights like “The Voice,” “American Idol” and “The Big Bang Theory.”

“Modern Family” has been the leader in DVR playback for a while now, but this season its delayed-viewing numbers have exploded. Its original episodes have averaged a 5.4 rating in adults 18-49 and 12.8 million viewers on Wednesday nights, but a full-week’s worth of DVR playback has boosted those numbers by 2.5 demo points and 4.9 million viewers overall (to 7.9 and 17.7 million); a year ago at this time, the average “Modern” seg added 1.6 demo points and 3.2 million viewers overall from same-night to full-week.

As an example of how that has improved the show’s final standings in a given week (as well as its season averages), consider the last Wednesday of the February sweep: “Modern Family” averaged a 4.8 same-night rating in adults 18-49, placing it fifth for the week, behind NBC’s “The Voice” and three editions of Fox’s “American Idol.” But because it gained 2.7 points from same-night to full-week DVR playback, “Modern Family” jumped to a 7.5 in the final nationals — ahead of “Voice” (up 1.2 to 6.6) and “Idol” (whose Thursday episode went up 1.0 to 6.4).

“The DVR is the programmer’s best friend, and it has really helped ABC in the case of ‘Modern Family’ and its final ratings,” says Larry Hyams, ABC’s VP of primetime audience analysis.

DVR playback doesn’t necessarily equate with advertising revenue, which is based on viewership of commercials within three days of a broadcast. But Hyams points out that typically more than 93% of a show’s final “live plus same-day” audience is achieved either same-night or within that first three-day window that counts against advertising sales.

In Nielsen’s current national household sample, roughly 43% are wired with digital video recorders, up from 40% a year ago. But it’s closer to 50% in homes with incomes of $100,000 or more — another category in which the ABC comedy is primetime’s top-rated show.

“There is a skew toward DVR ownership being a little more affluent … to a certain degree, they go hand in hand,” Hyams said of “Modern’s” increased ratings and increased upscale skew this season.

Another factor in the ratings surge for “Modern Family” is a change in Nielsen methodology beginning halfway through last season allowing multiple viewings of a show to count toward its ratings.

While that may not figure to be a huge help, it can be when members of the same household are watching a show at different times. And with its multigenerational appeal and popularity with upscale adults who may be more likely to have more DVRs in the home, “Modern Family” is a natural beneficiary.

Just how well is “Modern Family” faring in upscale homes? Through March 4, it’s the top-rated show among viewers in $100K-plus homes (10.4 rating), ahead of NBC’s “The Voice” (8.9), Fox’s “American Idol” on Wednesday (7.6) and Thursday (7.2) as well as CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory” (6.6).

And ABC’s Wednesday overall was the top-rated entertainment lineup on broadcast television (5.1 rating), getting solid support from “The Middle” (3.4), “Suburgatory” (3.6), “Happy Endings” (4.5) and rookie drama “Revenge” (4.2).

ABC’s Wednesday is also the No. 2 night this season in terms of upscale index, drawing 45% higher ratings than the norm among high-income young adults (index of 145) — up from 131 last year. The only night that indexes higher among the wealthy is NBC’s modestly rated Thursday (158).

But when a show like “Modern Family” can combine robust ratings with a significant upscale skew, it’s time to back up the Brink’s truck.

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