Don’t say the B word: DVRs, VOD, ratings and the binge viewing threat

New York Times writer Brian Stelter penned an interesting piece this weekend about the growing delay between the time an episode of a TV show is broadcast and the time people actually get around to watching it. The story focused on DVR recordings versus cable VOD, but one thing struck me as odd: No one — not the network executives quoted nor Stelter himself — mentioned binge viewing. Not even once.

The story did take a close look at how delayed viewing is affecting ratings, and how consumption patterns are changing. There has obviously been some time-shifting going on ever since the first DVR was introduced, but previously, much of the viewing still happened within the first three days after an episode aired. Now, people catch up with a show later and later. From the article:

“What is notable about the start of the new fall TV season, according to network executives, is a surge in not just delayed viewing, but very-delayed viewing.”

That’s bad news for TV networks. Advertisers generally only pay for views that happen within the first three days. Which means that anyone in the business needs to pay attention to these trends. That’s why I found it particularly odd that no one really seemed to have a good explanation for the growing gap. Again, from the story:

“Some people who might have previously time-shifted the new NBC drama The Blacklist by one day, for example, are now waiting longer to watch, partly because of the sheer number of shows on their mental to-watch lists.”

It’s true, we live in a golden age of television, and there’s more than enough to watch on the airwaves. But is that really all there is? Or are people possibly starting to embrace a different style of viewing — one that they may have learned from Netflix (S NFLX) and now expect for their broadcast and cable fare as well?

Netflix’s strong grow thover the last two years has led us to a point where the company’s service is now available in roughly in a quarter of all U.S. TV households. That’s one in four TV viewers who got access to entire seasons of shows, some of which have never aired on traditional TV before, with the option to watch as many episodes as he or she wants.

Sure, people have binged to “catch up” with their TiVo recordings queue before, but Netflix makes binge viewing a default behavior. Not the extreme binge, where you watch an entire season in one or two sittings, but the casual binging that may be driven by story lines. Where you just can’t wait another week after you saw that breathtaking cliffhanger.

The good news for the TV industry is that it is starting to prepare itself for this binge-on-everything future. Companies are experimenting with dynamic ad insertions for cable VOD and TV Everywhere offerings, allowing them to monetize views days or possibly even weeks after shows originally air. But implementing these solutions on a massive scale takes time, and the rights for catch-up episodes are hotly contested as part of the ongoing retransmission spats between networks and pay TV providers.

And while the industry is still trying to figure things out, consumers may be ready to take matters into their own hands. Just don’t call it the B word.

Image courtesy of (CC-BY-SA) Flickr user joe.ross.