FX’s ‘The Bridge’ at the Center of the DVR Revolution

Drama, which ends its first season tonight, is the biggest playback gainer by percentage

The Bridge DVR

Americans’ viewing habits have changed markedly since the advent of DVRs, and perhaps no show has benefited from time-shifted playback quite like FX’s “The Bridge,” which wraps its first season tonight.

In what’s believed to be a first, the Shine America drama about detectives tracking a serial killer on both sides of the American-Mexican border is being watched by more young adults on their DVRs within a week of its initial telecast than on Wednesday night, when it airs on the network.

For those who are longtime and/or heavy users of DVRs, this may not sound surprising. But “live plus same-day” viewing (Nielsen speak for viewing that’s done either live or via DVR playback before 3 a.m. the morning after a scheduled telecast) remains the window when most television viewing of a show is done.

But this is increasingly less so for some programs with relatively small audiences — especially 10 p.m. dramas with complicated storylines that may require more attention and mental energy than people can muster at the end of a long day.

Looking at the Nielsen numbers for “The Bridge,” which has been renewed for a second season, its original episodes are averaging 821,000 adults 18-49 on Wednesday nights to place ninth among all new cable drama premieres in 2013. But it moves up to sixth on the list — leapfrogging VH1’s “Hit the Floor,” ABC Family’s “The Fosters” and Syfy’s “Defiance” — in data inclusive of full-week DVR playback.

As a result, “The Bridge” was the third most popular new cable drama of the summer among adults 18-49, behind Lifetime’s “Devious Maids” and USA’s “Graceland.”

The 105% growth from “Live + same-day” (821,000) to “Live + 7” (1.684 million) makes “The Bridge” the most time-shifted show, on a percentage basis, in FX history.

Many dramas grow more than 50% in L7, but this year has seen even more new series rising by 75% or more, including cable newcomers “Ray Donovan” on Showtime (84% growth from same-night to full-week), “Graceland” (adding 92%) and “The Americans” on FX (93%).

On the broadcast side, last season’s biggest DVR gainers on a percentage basis were NBC’s “Smash” at 89% (laregly due to its Saturday timeslot), “Hannibal” at 78% and “Grimm” at 74%.

Like “The Americans,” “The Bridge” was renewed by FX for a second season in part due to its impressive DVR audience. And following its premiere, which was its highest-rated episode, “The Bridge” showed amazing consistency in its numbers throughout its run.

“The Bridge” is the first scripted series from Shine America. Shine is also behind Fox’s Americanized version of the the U.K. crime drama “Broadchurch,” set to run as an event series on the network in the 2014-15 season.