Homes with personal video recorders to do not use them as much as they think. That is the conclusion of researchers that found people claimed to watch recorded or time-shifted programmes much more than was actually observed. They also found that the availability of a personal archive of programmes reduced demand for video on demand.

Actual Customer Behaviour conducted an ethnographic observation over 18 months in a number of homes with personal video recorders, video-on-demand and online video services.

The study was conducted in conjunction with London Business School for a consortium including Ofcom, the BBC, Channel 4, BT Vision and Microsoft, among others. The findings were presented at a conference in London.

The final phase of the research focussed on 19 individuals in 5 homes. In one case, a man in his forties claimed to watch recorded programmes 70% of the time but actually watched live television 88% of the time. A woman said that nine times out of ten she would watch something previously recorded, but live television made up 75% of her actual viewing.

Overall, around 60% of viewing was live, compared to 30% time-shifted or catch-up viewing. True video-on-demand on the television screen accounted for just 2% of viewing, while viewing on a computer screen accounted for 8%, split equally between time-shift or catch-up viewing and other video material.

One of the findings was that the availability of an archive of programmes in the personal video recorder reduced the appetite for true video on demand. Users reported that they wanted larger hard drives to store more programmes rather than more video-on-demand.

Users were more likely to watch video on demand on their computer, where the BBC iPlayer and 40D service represented half of their video viewing, although it still accounted for only around 10 minutes per person per day.

One suggestion is that the three-foot viewing experience may be more personal and private than the nine-foot experience which is more likely to be shared and social. The study found that the majority of such viewing was on a laptop in the lounge, providing a more personal experience in a social space.

The ACB study only covered five homes in its final phase and is therefore far from conclusive, but such observational research has been found to offer insights into actual behaviour that may not be reflected in larger statistically representative samples.

Research from the BARB audience measurement panel indicates that time-shifted recording on a personal video recorder is rising but still represents only 5% of all viewing by all individuals.

In homes with personal video recorders, which is just over 30% of all television homes in the United Kingdom, time-shifted viewing currently represents around 17% of viewing, with slightly more on Sundays. Time-shift viewing accounts for just over 40 minutes a day in households with a personal video recorder, with dramas and documentaries being the genres most viewed in this way.

The phenomenon of differences between claimed and actual behaviour is often encountered in research. It seems that those with personal video recorders believe they use them more than they actually do. This could be because viewing a time-shifted programme is more intentional while other viewing is more habitual or even a background activity. Viewers may be more likely to be aware of programmes that they have actively selected to record and watch and therefore over report such viewing.

Although the level of personal video recorder viewing may be lower than some might think, it is still clearly highly valued by those with the facility.

Interestingly, while there was a relatively high level of use of online video, true video-on-demand services appear to be less valued by viewers with personal video recorders. This reflects the dominance that scheduled linear television channels, supported by powerful promotion and other media coverage, still hold over viewing behaviour.