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There is an episode of Seinfeld in which Jerry presets his VCR (what’s that?) to tape a Mets game so he can watch it later. Of course, the comedic element comes into play when he greets everyone he speaks to during the course of the evening with “Don’t tell me the score of the Mets game!” When he finally settles down to watch the game in his apartment later that night, Kramer makes his trademark entrance while exclaiming “Boy, the Mets really blew it tonight, huh?!” The tantrum that Jerry throws following Kramer’s gaff signifies the reason why sports are one of the few things that will, for the most part, always be immune to DVR.
DVR has changed the ratings landscape for television executives. Initial numbers for the original airing of a program are now only part of the story as networks start to develop ways of measuring recorded viewership. For example, the ratings for this year’s season premiere of Modern Family, one of television’s most popular shows, were at about 14 million. After considering DVR, that number jumped to 18 million. This nearly 25 percent jump seems to be consistent with most other shows, and is one of the chief reasons for why many have claimed the 30-second spot is dead (or the 30-second spot as we know it, at least). This may be true, save for one thing: sports.
The live Neilson ratings for the NFL’s first game this year, between the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys, stood at about 22.4 million. When DVR viewership was measured, that number only jumped to about 22.8 million. So what does this say about sports and DVR-ing? In my opinion, DVR makes sports the single most important piece of programming on commercial-driven broadcast television.
We saw the negative reaction to non-live sporting events on a grander scale this past summer when viewers were up in arms about receiving Olympics results via social media before actually being able to watch the games. There is no exact explanation behind it, but the consensus continues to be that, of all television programming, sports is the one facet that people overwhelmingly prefer to watch as it happens. As a matter of fact, for some sporting events – the Super Bowl particularly – some viewers watch just as much for the advertisements as they do for the game itself. In 2011, a staggering 65 percent of women and 45 percent of men claimed that they watch the Super Bowl for the sole purpose of seeing the commercials. 30-second spots during sports also give advertisers a chance to be more creative. Some of the most memorable commercials premiered during some kind of game, including the E*Trade baby, Budweiser frogs and the Go Daddy campaigns.
On the contrary, some argue that sports will eventually be hurt by new technology because it gives audiences more options, especially when it comes to fair-weather fans. For example, in a time when there were no other devices to watch programming on, a person might have been forced to watch coverage of the World Series. But now, thanks to technologies the likes of DVR, Netflix or Hulu, people can stray away from the television to get their entertainment somewhere else. This would certainly take away from the value of advertising during sports. However, many would argue that ratings for events, especially championships and tournaments, have been at an all-time high in recent years (some of that thanks to promotion through these new technologies prior to the air date).
While there is no question that the 30-second spot’s glory days via television are definitely gone, as long as there are sports, then it will have a place. Nothing can compare to the drama of watching something as it actually happens. It gives the viewer a sense of being part of history, no matter how insignificant or unimportant that event may seem in the future.