You knew it would happen: DVRs are finally breaking down the TV ratings system.
Because DVRs make skipping over commercials so easy, Nielsen is now rating commercials themselves, based in part on how often people stop fast-forwarding and watch them. According to a New York Times report, DVRs have also affected show ratings themselves: after a single night, a show like How I Met Your Mother might have a 2.7, but by the end of the week, when everyone with a DVR has watched it, the rating might be much higher, at 4.1. The trouble is, both of these new ratings take weeks to process.
There here are some issues that the article didn't mention, though.
1) What about dual-tuner DVRs? On a Sunday night, I can watch Family Guy and Cold Case, even though they are on opposite one another. Since DVRs in general only make up about 20 percent of the viewing audience, it may not be significant yet, but that's going to really screw up ratings as we know it.
2) What about the DVR providers? TiVo and the like must have ridiculous realtime information about who watches what and which commercials are funny enough to stop for. Nielsen has a pretty elaborate system that has worked for networks and advertisers for many years, but TiVo or the cable co's could walk in with a few realtime charts and shut that thing down quick, right?
Maybe part of the reason TiVo has lasted so long through thick and thin is that it gets serious Nielsen consulting fees. [NYT]