The Power of the DVR Habit

I just finished reading The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg.

This fascinating and insightful book highlights several case studies from companies such as Procter & Gamble, Starbucks, and Target to Olympic medalists and NFL athletes. Mr. Duhigg describes how bad habits were broken by replacing them with healthier options, and thereby creating new habits for consumers. Febreze® is one such success story.

Who drank coffee at 3pm ten years ago? Not many.

Who needs a coffee break at 3pm today? Millions.

Because coffee breaks during the afternoon are now habit and people like their routines.

Working in the TV industry for twenty years, I have witnessed a lot of change in consumer habits. When I began my career, three broadcast networks dominated the landscape. I watched WNBC news at 11pm every night not because it was my favorite broadcast, but because I watched the lead-in programming (The Cosby Show, Cheers, Friends, and Seinfeld). NBC was a habit for me. Back then, if you asked viewers to name the shows they watched and which networks aired them, they most likely knew the answer to both. Today, people know their favorite shows, but more often than not, don’t remember – or never knew – which networks air them. Why? One big reason, the DVR.

Younger people have adopted the DVR a lot faster than the baby boomers. A perfect example is the CW network, which has 44% less live viewing during primetime than CBS. CBS skews toward an older viewer (with programs like 60 Minutes), who tends to watch more shows live – all because of habit. My father records PGA Tour golf events and when he plays them from his recorded list he sits through the commercials without fast-forwarding. Is he lazy? Charles Duhigg might argue his behavior is related to habit. In contrast, the younger viewer watching Gossip Girl on the CW is in the habit of recording his/her favorite TV show and speeding through the commercials.

This is the same reason why Pepsi and Coca-Cola target 12-24 year olds. Research shows that most people decide on a favorite soft drink by the age of 24, and 90% stay with that brand for the rest of their lives. It is also why most marketers care about 18-49 and 25-54 year-olds. Once you hit 55, odds are that you will stick with your favorite brands…out of habit.

Tonight when you pick up the remote, let’s see if you go to live TV or to your DVR playlist first. What we’ve seen is in primetime, TiVo owners typically go to their playlist first, then to live TV. Creatures of habit no doubt. Duhigg certainly could have had a chapter on TiVo, maybe we’ll be in the revised edition.

Greg DePalma is Vice President of Audience Insights at TiVo Inc., where he consults with advertiser, agency, and network clients to increase commercial effectiveness in a DVR world. Greg can be reached at

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