Time-shifted TV doesn’t save time

If you got a chance to see my TED talk, you know that at one point I joke about people’s “time-saving tips.” One of my favorite examples in this genre is to DVR (record) your favorite shows, so you can fast-forward through the commercials. That way, you save 8 minutes every half hour, so in 2 hours of TV, you can find 32 minutes to exercise!

The punchline, of course, is that if you’ve got 2 hours to watch TV, you’ve already got 32 minutes to exercise. You just…aren’t.

Now some research shows that time-shifted TV doesn’t even generally save those 8 minutes.

A new study, published in Management Science, and based on work by researchers at Carnegie Mellon, Erasmus University Rotterdam, and Católica Lisbon School of Business and Economics, finds that people given access to time-shifted TV tend to watch more TV overall than people who don’t use this feature.

Obviously, lots of people already have DVR functions on their TVs, and it’s possible that people who are really into TV are the first to get DVRs and use them, so the researchers designed the study to try to account for that. They looked at viewership in 50,000 cable-TV households. Some of these households were given access to premium channels. Of this chunk, some were given access to the premium channels with time-shifting capability, and others to the premium channels without this capability. The result is that people who had time-shifting capability tended to spend more time watching TV overall than those who couldn’t time-shift.

This makes sense to me. In the past, people who had normal out-of-the-house jobs could watch TV in the early mornings, evenings, and on weekends. If you think about it, there’s no reason sports games couldn’t be played at noon, but in general, the games are played at times that the people perceived as being the primary audience (e.g. men ages 25-55) can watch live.

Now, thanks to time-shifted TV, there are whole universes of shows that people who are in school or going to work can now watch. I don’t watch much TV but sometimes I’ll tape various HGTV remodeling shows that run at 2 p.m. I would never watch them at 2 p.m., but now that I can watch them in the evenings or weekends, they become an option.

The study was partly done to give advertisers information on whether time-shifted TV would undermine their model. The answer is…not really. People watch more TV overall, and they actually don’t do too much to strategically avoid ads. This strikes me as crazy; we DVR football games and deliberately start 45 minutes late in order to be able to fast-forward through commercials, but apparently that is less common than one might think. The live experience still wins out.

In any case, I think this speaks to the larger point of saving bits of time, and what we then do with it. Theoretically, time-shifting TV can save time, but it doesn’t really, unless your goal is to be able to watch more TV. Likewise, shaving 3 minutes off each email check isn’t terribly helpful if you then use the time to send slightly quicker responses to all emails that come to you…whether they deserve quick responses or not.

If you time-shift TV, how do you incorporate it into your life?

In other news: A few other books from friends of the blog that you might want to check out! Damon Brown (who some folks will remember from Off the Clock) has a new book out called Bring Your Worth: Level Up Your Creative Power and Service to the World. It’s available through Kindle Unlimited (or as a paperback). My friend Bharat Rao also has a new book out on the business of magic. By day a professor of design, Rao decided to turn his eye to how magicians and magic are making a comeback in a world where so much of technology already seems magical. Magical: How Magic and its Star Performers Transformed the Entertainment Economy is also available through Kindle Unlimited or as a paperback.

4 thoughts on “Time-shifted TV doesn’t save time

  1. Time-shifting increases the variety of shows available (I can watch multiple shows that air at the same time, or shows that went off the air years ago), and therefore improves the quality of the TV-watching experience. For me, this means two things: (1) Although TV remains easier than many other leisure activities, it is not always less enjoyable or rewarding. Facebook? Sudoku? I don’t think my favorite shows are inferior diversions. And, (2) I don’t need or want to watch as much TV as I might otherwise. After 20 minutes of enjoyable viewing I typically feel rested/relaxed/whatever and can return to work or a higher-effort leisure activity – and even if it’s the middle of an episode, I can press pause walk away without worrying about missing anything.

  2. we, for some reason, keep the tv on in our living room most all the time until we go to bed. I don’t technically “watch” it when I get home from work, but the kitchen is open to the living room so it is right there while I am cooking/eating/cleaning up for the day.

    I do dvr my one most favorite show because it comes on from 9 to 10 on a weeknight, and I like to go to bed at 8:30 most nights.

    I do not like to fast forward through commercials because I like to get up and go do stuff while commercials are on – then sometimes I stay away too long and have to rewind back to the show!

  3. We don’t have a DVR or cable, and I leave for work at 5 a.m. Needless to say, I barely see any TV during the week. Occasionally, I’ll see an ad for something good, but pretty much no show is worth functioning on no sleep the next day, so I skip it. If we had a DVR, I have no doubt my weekends would be spent catching up–which is precisely why I won’t buy one!

  4. We have a DVR and will start a couple of our favorite shows late and fast forward through the commercials. Sometimes though I like to watch a show with the commercials because I can use those little bits of time to empty the dishwasher, pick up around the house, etc. I think I am more efficient because there is a clock and something I want to get back to. If I am late I can always back up.

    On another note, I have two tv shows I have been recording but realize I am not watching any more as “I don’t have time” They obviously have taken a back seat in my priorities, which I am not disappointed with. I have been working to to spend more time on my creative pursuits, an I am.

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