New Girl Zooey

The first batch of piping hot premiere-week DVR data is here, and the impact is bigger than ever. Every TV show benefits from post-premiere DVR viewing, of course, but some shows benefit more than others. According to one major network analyst, the average show now gets about a 27 percent bump in the L+3 data* compared to 18 percent last year.

Based on the first round of figures covering last Monday and Tuesday, a few shows in particular enjoyed big spikes: NBC’s Revolution jumped a whopping 51 percent, climbing to a 5.2 rating in the demo. Revolution‘s Monday night rival, CBS’ Hawaii Five-0, was up 41 percent to a 2.6 rating. That’s good news for Hawaii, which got off to a rather rough start last week. Also: ABC’s Private Practice was up 49 percent to a 2.8 rating.

Another notable gainer: Fox’s New Girl, up 38 percent to a 3.8 rating. Both Tuesday New Girl episodes climbed by the same percentage after disappointing a bit for their second season return.

Now here’s the real question, and one you probably won’t see asked when you read stories out there touting big DVR gains: Does the new data actually change anything?

Let’s take a look.

At 10 p.m. on Mondays, the morning-after ratings had Revolution in first place, ABC’s Castle in second place and Hawaii in third. Even with Hawaii getting a bigger percentage of DVR lift than Castle, the outcome with DVR data leaves the standings unchanged.

Or take Tuesdays at 10 p.m.: CBS’ Vegas was originally reported as out in front, followed by ABC’s Private Practice and NBC’s Parenthood. With DVR, that’s unchanged.

Among the Tuesday sitcoms: NBC’s New Normal (+38 percent) got a bigger DVR boost than Fox’s Mindy Project (+22 percent), but didn’t change the fact that Mindy was on top.

Things do shift with New Girl vs. NBC’s Go On. They were tied in the morning ratings. By the time the afternoon nationals rating were released, New Girl was a tenth of a point higher than Go On. And by the time this DVR data came in, New Girl was firmly ahead (3.8 vs. 3.2 — a pretty decent gap). Another close call: NBC’s The Voice on Tuesday was a tenth of a point ahead of CBS’ NCIS. With DVR, they’re tied.

Did any shows get weak boosts from DVR? Yup, mostly new shows which didn’t draw a very big rating to start with. CBS’ new sitcom Partners only grew by 9 percent. Fox’s Ben and Kate only got 15 percent. Reality shows, too, tend to be poor DVR draws since viewers have an incentive to watch them the same night or they risk being spoiled on the outcome the next day.

So answer the question, Claire: Does DVR matter?

Yes. DVR totally matters in terms of getting a more accurate idea of how many people actually watch a show (and these numbers don’t even include viewers watching later than the first three days, OnDemand, streaming, etc.).

But it’s important to keep in mind that DVR tends to reinforce, not change, the race’s overall story. Hits are still hits. Flops are still flops. It’s the margin calls that get murky. Some network insiders say the media should stop reporting morning ratings altogether (usually the same executives who can’t wait to read them), but day-after data remains valuable for the same reason political polls are valuable even though they don’t count every voter. Or, perhaps a better metaphor, they’re valuable just like opening weekend box office reports are valuable. The daily numbers give you an accurate sense of the race because most viewing still happens the same night a show airs, and the reports tell you whether a program is trending up or down compared to the previous week.

At this point, DVR use still tends to have a magnifying effect on every show’s performance rather a outright game-changing effect. As one analyst put it: “The rich get richer.” Though, as you can see above, if two shows are close or tied, DVR can make all the difference in terms of which show ended up on top. And certain shows, particularly geek-friendly fare like Fox’s Fringe and NBC’s Revolution, tend to draw more DVR use than most. Such ripple effects will only get bigger as DVR use climbs.

*Morning-after ratings contain same-night DVR data too. These new numbers include live viewing and the first three days of DVR use.