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October 24, 2014

Viewers at 10PM Would Rather Watch DVR Shows Than 'Jay Leno' -- or Anything Else

by Gary Susman, posted Nov 30th 2009 2:10PM
The Jay Leno Show premiereDon't blame Jay Leno. NBC's risky experiment, gutting its 10PM drama slate to air Leno's low-budget variety hour five nights a week, may not have paid off in ratings, and the move may have made NBC an easy target for scorn and ridicule. But Nielsen ratings numbers suggest that no one could have slowed the slide during the final hour of primetime.

According to the Associated Press, the 10PM hour has become the time when viewers catch up with the shows on their DVR queues. So viewership of first-run shows at 10PM is down at all of the big three broadcast networks.

The Jay Leno Show premiereDVR use has penetrated a third of American homes, and the effects on prime time ratings are becoming apparent. In the Nielsen numbers cited by AP, NBC's 10PM audience is down 1.8 points from a year ago, while DVR usage at 10PM is up 1.4 points from this time last year. ABC's numbers are also down slightly at that hour. CBS' 10PM audience is down most nights, though overall, its numbers are up 6 percent because of lone 10PM hit 'The Mentalist.' "The DVR phenomenon is a little bit higher than we thought," David Poltrack, CBS' top research executive, told AP. (By the way, how wonderfully apt is "Poltrack" as a name for a ratings number-cruncher?)

Poltrack cited as an example viewers who, faced with a choice at 9PM Thursdays between 'CSI: Crime Scene Investigation' on CBS and 'Grey's Anatomy' on ABC, will watch 'CSI' as it airs and record 'Grey's,' then watch it at 10PM, while they're DVR-ing 'The Mentalist.'

It gets worse for the networks on Friday nights. Fridays used to be a TV graveyard; now, people are staying home and watching TV on Fridays, but not necessarily first-run shows. Instead, Fridays have become the nights when DVR users catch up with shows they recorded earlier in the week. Tough luck, 'Ugly Betty' and 'Medium.'

AP cites the DVR numbers as another reason why, despite his low ratings, NBC is likely to keep Jay Leno on at 10PM. Besides the obvious reasons -- the network doesn't want to lose face and admit having made an enormous mistake; moving Jay back to 11:30 would require an expensive buyout of Conan O'Brien's contract and additional public embarrassment at having to pay him to leave -- there's the fact that NBC has no apparent back-up plan. There doesn't seem to be any alternative 10PM programming in the pipeline, much less anything so compelling it would make network viewers put down their DVR remotes.

In fact, if costly first-run dramas at ABC and CBS can't pull viewers away from their DVRs either, we may be seeing Leno-esque variety shows on those networks, too. Maybe 10PM hero Simon Baker (pictured, left) can host one.

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