Time-shift not used to skip ads, reckons ridiculous report

Perhaps the most laughable entertainment study of all time has just been published, concluding that time-shifted TV does not in fact reduce the number of advertisements watched. We must have read the report 100 times, all the while pinching ourselves just to make sure we weren’t dreaming – while imaging the authors patting themselves on the back in the belief they have uncovered something groundbreaking.

Ask anyone with time-shift what its primary use is and they will say, without hesitation, the luxury of skipping ads. It really is brown trouser time for the pay TV industry with straw-clutching findings like these.

The research really has its wires crossed and seems to be based entirely on live TV, so it’s no wonder ad viewing figures are the same, because most people would rather watch live programming live – which is the whole point – rather than watch it later. There is of course a share of viewers who will pause at the beginning of an ad break then return later and skip the entirety, or record an entire live show and watch it at a later date. But for live sports – the most viewed of all live events – that will only represent a tiny fraction of viewers. Were the study to be repeated purely monitoring time-shifted content with frequent ads, what’s to bet only a tiny percentage would sit through the ad breaks unnecessarily – and those who do have probably lost the remote anyway.

So, The Impact of Time Shifting on TV Consumption and Ad Viewership study of 50,000 cable TV households in the US, Portugal and the Netherlands involved a mix of time-shift and non-time-shift environments, some of which were given premium TV channels and access to content with no ad breaks, for some reason, over a six-week period.

An additional finding says time-shift does not in fact increase the consumption time of live TV. Funny that; why would it? An irrelevant and insignificant finding. Next.

Oh look, time-shift might not be prompting more consumption of live content but at least the technology is “boosting the concentration of total TV viewership” based on the flaccid idea viewers are using time-shift to watch “more popular programs.” We don’t recall ever reading a study so intent on fabricating some breakthrough findings while inadvertently digging its own grave. The study was clearly hopeful of gaining recognition (and sales) from advertisers and cable TV companies, while in reality we reckon executives at pay TV operators, advertising agencies, technology vendors and media firms the world over will squirm upon reading it.

What this study fundamentally does, however, is sugarcoat the real threat to cable TV which is of course OTT video. Dear researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in the US, Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands and Catolica Lisbon School in Portugal, we implore you to head back to the drawing board and take a look at the viewing habits of your 50,000 household sample size when comparing cable TV with streaming services, and in turn live streaming versus live cable, and cable on-demand/recorded content versus streaming on-demand. Those are the kind of results the industry needs to see, as opposed to what you think the TV market wants to see.

Had the study been carried out by a company with fingers in pay TV pies, we would assume the published findings had been manipulated. But instead the study was undertaken by researchers and academics, which should in theory make the study more reliable than those from inside the industry we are more accustomed to reading. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

Moving on, the study recorded an average of 5 hours of TV viewing a day, while 58% of the sample used time-shift technology at least once a day during an 11-day period prior to the study’s start. The majority of time was spent viewing general purpose national free-to-air channels, which might go some way to explaining why ad viewing was the same across candidates with and without time-shift.

An average of 80% of programs viewed using time-shift had aired in the previous 48 hours, which the researchers insightfully tell us means time-shift is mostly used to catch-up on content missed recently. Really?


“Advertisers have been concerned that using time-shift TV would decrease the amount of time people spend watching live TV, which would reduce their exposure to ads. Our findings should interest advertisers as well as cable companies and producers of TV. We showed that people aren’t abandoning ads more frequently even when they have time-shift TV,” said Carnegie Mellon associate professor of information systems Pedro Ferreira.

Our point has probably been hit home by now and what we’d really love is for a technology company involved in time-shift, like Vubiquity or TiVo, to have their say, although of course they too will likely say that time-shift technology does not reduce ad viewing time.