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Offline Mimics Online: DVR Usage Up
Are frustrations with online "catch-up services" such as the BBC iPlayer, Hulu, and Rogers On Demand Online leading toward greater DVR usage?
Tues., Dec. 1, by Tim Siglin

With the rise in on-demand and catch-up services across North America and Europe, the streaming of television content seems to be finding its place.

The BBC, whose iPlayer was the first catch-up service in the UK and one of the better-known catch-up services globally, recently announced its views for October 2009—the month before Sky launched its own Xbox-based catch-up service.

The BBC iPlayer has seen consistent growth and is now up to 2.6 million views per day, for a total monthly viewership of 79.3 million requests for the month. While 26.1 million of those requests were for radio content, the remaining 53.2 million request were filled with a variety of content requests, the top two being a live news show (Nick Griffin, of the British Nationalist Party, appearing on Question Time yielded 928,000 requests) and a natural history programme (the first episode of Life had 664,000 requests).

In North America, Rogers, the communications giant in Canada, also announced a rollout of its catch-up service, called Rogers On Demand Online. In an interesting twist, Rogers' beta service will be available to anyone in Canada that has a Rogers account, be it wireless, internet, or cable services.

"Any customer with a Rogers account can visit rogersondemand.com and register to experience Rogers On Demand Online content free from any streaming Internet connection within Canada," a press release stated. "Offered to all Rogers Cable, Rogers Home Phone, Rogers Hi-Speed Internet, and Rogers Wireless customers, the initial BETA roll out will feature more than 1,000 hours of aggregated content from 17 broadcast and production partners and 30 channels."

While the majority of the content appears to be available across Canada, some of the content will only be available to Rogers' cable television subscribers.

"Rogers Cable customers with matching cable TV subscriptions will be able to access online a selection of their own specialty TV programming they subscribe to at home," the release stated.

"The Rogers service only gives you access to shows that you already subscribe to in your cable package," said Raju Mudhar, The Toronto Star's entertainment reporter. "That means it's most likely to be used to catch up with a show you've missed."

To explain this "it's all available" versus "some of it is available" disconnect, a key piece of information is that the company offers cable subscriptions in the provinces of Ontario, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland, meaning that residents of these provinces will be the only ones to be able to view the entire Rogers On Demand service package.

What is less clear is whether these subscribers, when traveling to other provinces, will also be able to view this premium cable catch-up content.

Ahead of the "TV Everywhere" model that cable television providers hope to roll out in the next few months, geoblocking is one of several viewer habit bumps in the road that are appearing as dealbreakers for some customers.

Both services mentioned above, the BBC iPlayer and Rogers On Demand, are not available to U.S. customers, for a variety of for-now legitimate licensing reasons. Conversely, in several articles in Canadian newspapers about the rollout of the Rogers service, reporters are rather pointed about the fact that Hulu.com is geoblocked from viewing on Canadian IP addresses.

A second viewership bump in the road may be the habit of viewing content on a computer or portable device versus the television.

The BBC's most recent numbers show that 85% of all requests for catch-up services still come from the laptop or desktop user, with an additional 13% of all views coming from the Apple iPhone, iPod touch, and Sony PS3 portable gaming device.

In Canada, the Rogers service may allow those disenfranchised from the television to still watch their favorite content.

"It will also be a huge hit with kids," said Mudhar, in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek comment, "who have lost control of the remote in the living room but wield absolute power over the family computer."

Another issue at hand is the disconnect between offline on-demand services and online catch-up content availability. Mudhar points out that the Rogers service does not directly correlate to offline on-demand viewing.

"Rogers On Demand Online is a nice-to-have addition as opposed to something revolutionary," said Mudhar. "Strangely, the selection does not even match what's available on the Rogers on Demand service on my digital cable, which has up to now been my I-missed-an-episode fail-safe for when my personal video recorder screws up."

Mudhar goes on to say that the true success test of a new service is whether or not it makes one change their viewing habits, and this may account for the biggest disconnect between viewership in services who differentiate content available online versus content available offline.

As a potential harbinger of this last trend, it's interesting to note that a recent drop in prime-time viewership for one of the big three broadcasters in the U.S., NBC, has not necessarily equated to an abandonment of broadcast content.

According to a recent Nielsen ratings report, NBC's 10 pm prime-time slot, which now features The Jay Leno Show five nights per week, has lost an average of 1.8 household ratings points.

"At the same time, DVR usage—which is also measured by Nielsen—is up by 1.4 points in that hour," a recent AP story noted.

Rival broadcasters attempted to capitalize on NBC's decision to move away from drama in the 10 p.m. slot, including CBS, which moved a hit series into the same slot one night a week. Yet rivals were unable to pick up all, or even a majority of, the viewers that NBC lost.

"The DVR phenomenon is a little bit higher than we thought," CBS's David Poltrack, the network's chief research executive, told the Associated Press.

Poltrack went on point out a growing trend in offline catch-up scenarios.

"Many people watching CSI: Crime Scene Investigation on CBS at 9 p.m. Thursdays will simultaneously record ABC's Grey's Anatomy and then watch the medical soap an hour later, during the 10 p.m. slot," Poltrack said.

"One casualty of growing DVR usage is that Friday nights," the AP article stated. "Fridays are becoming a TV wasteland because so many people are catching up on programs they missed during the week."

The trend to watch, then, may be that offline DVR viewing continues to rise, until such a time as "TV Everywhere" really is everywhere.

[Update: Nielsen announced on December 7, 2009, that DVR and online usage continues to grow. More details are available at Tim Siglin's Workflowed blog.]