Don’t let your TV ads get killed by time-shifting

Time-shifting. That’s the buzzword in the advertising world for watching a program at a time other than when the broadcaster aired it. It’s changing advertising as we know it.

If your campaign, marketing effort or business is buying TV ads, time-shifting is dramatically impacting when your ad is getting seen by many viewers–if it is seen at all. You need to know how it impacts you and what to do about.

The TV buying landscape today

In the not-so-distant past, with the exception of the handful of people who knew how to make their VCR clock not blink (and could therefore program their VCR to tape a favorite show), most people watched TV programs as they aired.

Digital video recorders like TiVo were at the forefront of the time-shifting revolution.

Digital video recorders like TiVo were at the forefront of the time-shifting revolution.

Today, we have a different television viewing environment and it is changing television advertising in ways no one would have imagined just a few years ago.

  • Digital video recorders like TiVo make recording a viewer’s favorite shows much easier. 40% of homes have a DVR today.


  • iN DEMAND is also helping viewers with access to the service control when they view broadcast content.


  • There’s a huge user base for content delivery services like Hulu, Amazon Plus and Netflix–and these services are developing compelling new content in addition to providing back-catalog movies and TV shows.


  • People watch marathons of their favorite shows on DVD or through on-line streaming rather than wait for the networks to dribble out episodes on a weekly basis.


More and more people are watching their content when it’s convenient to them, not the network programmers. And viewers who control when they want to view things can easily bypass–or never even see–the ads you paid a lot of money to air.

Dealing with the impact of time-shifting

Understand that as of right now, there are still a lot of viewers watching programming as it airs–but it’s down from the heyday of rabbit ears and three broadcast networks.

Some of those not time-shifting heavily are simply in demographics that tend to be less tech-savvy

or with less access to the latest technology such as older viewers and lower income viewers. Many rural viewers are also less likely to time-shift because of limited broadband access. Others just watch live because, like generations before them, they plunk down on the couch “to see what’s on’” or they have the TV on in the background.

While that represents a large chunk of viewers, there’s still more that you can do to reach live viewers. You need to look for programs that hit your demographic that “go stale” if not watched live and are not likely to be time-shifted. That includes (but are not limited to):

  • Sporting events. You have to be a diehard fan to watch a game after it’s over and probably know the outcome. Fans watch the game as it happens. If you’re advertising to a Boston audience and the Patriots are on TV, you’re going to get a ton of live eyeballs.


  • Reality TV. Like sporting events, fans of these shows want to know who gets voted off the island or fired when it happens. They want to talk about the previous evening’s episodes with friends and co-workers the next day. This keeps strong reality TV shows like Survivor appointment television for die-hard fans and reduces time-shifting.


  • News and Weather. While there’s a huge shift in how people are receiving news and current information, and TV news ratings reflect this, for those who still watch TV news, it is done almost exclusively live and unshifted. This means look at local and national broadcast news, as well as cable news that fits your demographic target.


  • Sportscasts and Sports Talk. If they fit your demographic, these shows are almost never time-shifted. The 11PM Eastern Time and the 10PM Pacific TimeSportsCenter broadcasts still do big ratings. The Sunday night SportsCenter at 11PM Eastern can do 20 million viewers live in the Fall nationally. Sports talk shows like Pardon the Interruption and Around the Horn also are generally watched live.


  • Event television. Big awards shows like the Oscars tend to be watched live by fans rather than time-shifted. During Presidential campaign years, the annual debates are also appointment television.


  • Entertainment news. Shows like Access HollywoodTMZ, and Entertainment Tonight are less likely to be time-shifted.


  • Talk shows. Because of the topical nature of these shows, they tend to be less time-shifted. Look for “Monday through Friday” shows like LIVE with Kelly and MichaelEllen, and Dr. Phil. Also make sure to look at Sunday morning shows likeMeet the Press and Fox News Sunday, as well as daily political talk on the cable news channels.


By making sure you consider the impact of time-shifting in your TV buys, you will make the money you spend on this still-strong medium go farther to deliver your message to viewers.

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