There have been a series of stories about the impact of DVRs this fall, from a column I wrote a few weeks ago to today's Page 1 Los Angeles Times article about the issue, and what a double-edged sword it's becoming for ad-supported networks.
(A small footnote here: The Times piece again quotes execs saying people actually watch more commercials in playback mode than one might think, a question I addressed in the column — namely, if your audience can't figure out how to fast-forward, they might not exactly be the best target for premium products.)
Still, one of the biggest problems in taking DVR data into account is the lag in receiving it, and the pressure for instant information and "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" rulings.
Remember, we once waited until weekend boxoffice data was fully tabulated on Mondays before publishing stories on Tuesdays. Now, everyone can read estimates during the weekend and full stories on Monday morning, even if the numbers have to be adjusted later.
Similarly, I received a press release from ABC today with "Live+7 Day Ratings for the week of 10/8/12," or Week No. 3 of the new TV season. But those numbers are more than two weeks old, and we've already moved on to obsessing over how well "Once Upon a Time" and "Revenge" held up against the World Series and Sunday Night Football last night.
Networks haven't been quite so quick on the cancellation trigger finger this fall, in part because they need to absorb this kind of data. But from a simple perception standpoint, it's very difficult for a series to catch up with the sense it's a flop, even if it adds another 20% or 30% to its ratings when all the numbers come dribbling in two weeks later.
In this regard, there's some truth to the adage "Speed kills." But given the hunger for more information on all fronts — just witness the crazed polling being conducted in advance of the election — it's unlikely the rules are going to change any time soon.
In other words, counting on the DVR to prop up your grades is a dangerous way to live, especially for any new series.