A new way of analysing ratings by looking at the behaviour of subscribers to the TiVo digital video recorder separates out figures for viewing a programme, live or timeshifted, from the commercials. It suggests that most viewers skip adverts when watching a timeshifted recording. In the case of the most popular recorded programme the drop off in those viewing the adverts was 84%.

The new metrics are part of the TiVo StopWatch ratings service, explained Todd Juenger, who heads up audience research and measurement at TiVo. “Among the most fundamental insights our clients look for from the StopWatch ratings service is the relationship between programme audiences and commercial audiences,” he said.

“Audiences for television programs have always been defined by the entire program block, including all the content, commercials and promotion elements. While we continue to offer that, in the world of DVR viewing, it’s no longer sufficient.”

TiVo has previously offered clients ratings for specific commercials. Now they are providing audience ratings for the programmes themselves, with the adverts and promotions stripped out. He said: “Doing so puts in even starker terms the challenge of delivering traditional commercial messages to a timeshifted viewing audience.”

Looking at a popular programme like Grey’s Anatomy on ABC in May, when timeshifted it achieved a pure programme rating of 16.7 to 17.0 but a commercial rating of only 2.7 to 3.3. “Simply put, 14.3 ratings points worth of audience or 84% of available viewers during timeshifted viewing were lost to fast-forwarding during commercials.”

The StopWatch ratings provide second-by-second anonymous and aggregated viewing data, based on a stratified random sample of 250,000 TiVo subscribers, expected to increase to 300,000 by September.

The results from the service suggest that those that record programmes generally skip commercials, which may not be news to many users of digital video recorders, but will make uncomfortable reading for advertisers.

One might therefore wonder why TiVo would wish to promote such an apparently unwelcome message. It reflects a recognition that offering more detailed metrics based on the actual viewing behaviour of subscribers may be more valuable to advertisers than the common currency of ratings on which they have relied for decades.