Cable series get a big DVR boost

10:43 PM, Jun 25, 2013   |    comments
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By Gary Levin, USA TODAY

Cable TV series are winning a bigger share of awards, but they're less likely to demand urgent viewing by fans, who are more apt to use DVRs to catch up with them later.

Nielsen data for this year shows even bigger ratings gains between the day a show first airs and the accumulated audience up to a week afterward, now that nearly half of U.S. homes have digital video recorders. AMC's top-rated The Walking Dead racked up an average of 15 million zombie lovers for its winter season, adding 31% to its already huge same-day turnout of 11.4 million. A&E's Duck Dynasty added 4 million, a bigger boost than The Following, Revolution or Elementary. And the audience for USA's Suits jumped 2.2 million when 7-day viewing was factored in, a 65% increase.

The upticks vary widely, and as with broadcast series, news and sports are almost never recorded for later viewing, while 18-to-49-year-olds -- the sweet spot for advertisers -- tend to record shows more frequently than older viewers. And younger ones, too: Kids are far less likely to record shows for later viewing, as SpongeBob SquarePants added just 4% for original episodes and Disney's Austin & Ally rose 16%.

Also in the less-likely-to-record column were History miniseries The Bible, which had the same initial audience as Walking Dead (11.4 million) but added only 1.8 million viewers within a week, a 16% increase, compared to Dead's31%.

But cable series, which air frequent repeats throughout the week and are increasingly available on demand, often depend on the premiere telecast for a fraction of their total audience. New FX series The Americans averaged 1.9 million viewers, but that accounted for just 30% of its overall viewership; DVR usage alone nearly doubled that total to 3.4 million, while other viewing adds still more.

"When you have a new show in a crowded field, it's not surprising that though fewer people (latch on) early, a lot of people are catching up through buzz and word of mouth," says FX Networks CEO John Landgraf, who says same-day viewership is only one of several factors he uses to weigh the success of a new series. "You really don't know what the story is for your show until you're fairly downstream."

In the past, unscripted shows more often have been watched live. "Reality television is more of a topical viewing experience, vs. scripted, which requires more concentration, more engagement and less distraction," says USA Network research chief Ted Linhart,

But even that's changing. While many top unscripted cable series averaged 25% DVR "lifts," E!'s Keeping Up with the Kardashians (airing on crowded Sundays) jumped 53% with delayed viewing added in, and the most recent season of MTV's Teen Mom added 46%, about the same percentage as Duck Dynasty.

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