10 Years of Sky+

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Sky+ celebrated its 10th birthday in September 2011. To mark this milestone we’ve reviewed research around the digital television recorder (DTR), also known as the PVR or DVR.

When Sky+ launched, the media world’s assumption was that if the technology existed to skip ads then that is what viewers would do, and that they’d reschedule their viewing to suit themselves.

The reality is that social and behavioural factors take precedence over technological capabilities. In other words ‘just because you can, doesn’t mean you will’, which is a useful consideration in an era of rapid development in high-speed broadband, mobile devices, video on-demand and connected TVs.


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  • Sky+ is a set-top box with an internal hard drive. It allows the user to record, pause and instantly rewind live TV. The recording function is integrated within the Electronic Programme Guide (EPG), for easy planning and recording.
  • DTR penetration in the UK has passed the 50% mark, with 13.7m DTR homes out of a total of 26.5m.
  • Sky+ is now in over 9 million homes. Others available in the UK market are the Freeview+ PVR (2.6m), BT Vision DTR (0.7m), Freesat+ (0.6m), and Virgin Media’s V+ (2.3m).
  • Timeshifting (content played back within seven days of broadcast) accounts for 15% of overall viewing in DTR homes (source: BARB 2012). Timeshifting in DTR homes has remained consistent at around 15% of all viewing over the last six years. There are two distinct timeshifting behaviours: the pre-planned recording of programmes with the help of EPG listings, and the use of live pause or rewinding.
  • For the UK overall, timeshifting accounts for 10% of TV viewing (BARB 2012).
  • The UK’s TV audience measurement panel BARB has over 3,000 DTR homes containing over 8,000 viewers. It measures timeshifted viewing minute by minute.
  • Advertisers are not charged for fast-forwarded ads or those seen more than 7 days after transmission.

Sky+ Learnings:

The Sky+ box has come a long way since its launch. It began with a 40GB hard drive with 20 hours of recording time, whereas a 2TB drive is now available which is enough to store 1480 hours of standard definition programmes, or 480 hours of HD.

The ability to record not just a one-off programme but a series, known as series link, was launched in 2004. Remote recording
(setting Sky+ to record from your mobile phone or tablet) was launched in 2006.

Prices have come down over time too. When it was launched, Sky+ cost £300 plus a £10 monthly subscription. There is no longer a specific Sky+ subscription and, depending on whether you are a new or upgrading customer, and box type, the cost is between free and £199.

Who timeshifts the most?

An in-depth study of BARB viewing data by AGB Nielsen Media Research in 2009 showed that earlier DTR acquirers are keener users of the timeshifting function than more recent acquirers.

In terms of age, the keenest timeshifters are youngish, i.e. 25-34 year olds and more broadly 16-44 year olds. Propensity to timeshift declines with age after the mid-30s.

The mid-to-upmarket are more likely to timeshift than the mid-to-downmarket. Women use timeshifting more than men.

Beyond these broad patterns it is important to bear in mind that many factors have an influence on the extent of an individual’s timeshifting including personality types, family set-up and occupation, attitudes towards TV viewing, family dynamics, compatibility of working hours, length of commute and so on.

Programme genres

Drama series and soaps are by far the most timeshifted genres, which we would surmise is largely due to regularity of viewing and the ease of ‘series linking’. 40% of the viewing of drama series/serials in Sky+ homes is timeshifted.

The least timeshifted genres are, unsurprisingly, sport and news where viewing the live event is crucial.

This data is from SkyView rather than BARB, and is from Sky+ homes only.

The Rise of DTRs and commercial TV impacts

The rise of DTRs over the last 10 years has been in parallel with a rise in commercial TV impacts. If there is a causal link between the two it is unproven as yet, but the circumstantial evidence is multi-faceted and substantial.

For instance, data from 6,000 participating SkyView homes over the year to June 2011 suggests that viewing on a household level rises when Sky+ is installed.

This suggests that acquiring Sky+ increases viewing, but doesn’t prove it. Other simultaneous changes may have had an influence such as upgraded viewing packages, acquiring additional set-top boxes, or becoming a broadband customer and receiving Anytime+.

The rise in impacts is a direct consequence of more commercial TV being watched than ever before, up +18% over the last decade. This in turn has been caused to a large degree by the broader range of quality commercial channels via DTRs such as Sky+, combined with other knock-on effects of installing a DTR such as retaining the standard set top box, thereby introducing multichannel TV to a second TV set.

AGB Nielsen Media Research (2009) has also found that new DTR homes en masse don’t reduce the proportion of viewing time spent watching advertising, despite newly acquiring the capability to do so. Either they are making little (if any) effort to avoid
ads, or their efforts are ineffective. But the evidence suggests that the vast majority of viewers lack the motivation
to routinely try and avoid ads.

There are other reasons why so many ads are still seen in DTR homes. For example, four out of 10 Sky+ users say they sometimes forget they are in Sky+ mode when they are watching a recorded programme, so they also forget to fast-forward the nonprogramme elements.

And while virtually all DTR viewers will fastforward the ad breaks at times, it is also the case that many Sky+ users will occasionally rewind specifically to watch a break. Reasons given in customer focus groups include “when the commercial is funny or interesting… to see the details of a new product… or to see an advert which someone has commented on and I haven’t seen yet”. Capturing website addresses, enjoying and sharing humour, the novelty of new advertisements and registering the critical messages within ads such as prices or sale dates are all reasons regularly given for such apparently paradoxical behaviour.

Summary:

In tandem with the take-up of DTRs, people are watching more and more live or ‘as live’ TV ads per day than ever before. This is true for all audiences, be they young, upmarket, male or female. In 2006 the typical adult in a DTR home saw 33 ads a day; in 2011, it was 46.

Sky+ has revolutionised our ability to control TV viewing. But, to coin a phrase, our TV viewing has merely ‘evolutionised’.

We may now possess amazing TV viewing control, but overall we watch more TV and we still regard TV viewing as primarily a social activity. The media industry has learnt that where technology and behaviour meet, social considerations override technological capabilities. Just because consumers can do something doesn’t mean that they will.

Confounding our initial expectations, DTR research from the last 10 years shows more TV viewing rather than less, and greater programme loyalty.

Instead of extensively rescheduled viewing, viewers prefer a high proportion of live viewing.

And instead of wholesale ad avoidance there is more commercial TV viewing. Of course most timeshifted ads are skipped (why wouldn’t you?!), but few go out of their way to avoid advertising.

Download the full, illustrated case study

To download the full version, please download the full PDF opposite or click here

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