Cable's digital video recorder subscribers have tuned into the technology's recording features in a big way — and they're watching more TV in the process, according to an early survey of subscribers.
To gauge consumer response to its Explorer 8000 DVR box, Scientific-Atlanta Inc. polled its users in late November, asking 300 customers of two unnamed MSOs how they were using their boxes, which features they liked and which they'd want to add.
For starters, the average cable DVR customer comes from a different demographic than those who have already signed up for similar services from TiVo Inc. or SonicBlue Inc.'s Replay TV.
The S-A survey found the average Explorer 8000 customer is not a particularly early adopter. Only 27 percent of respondents said they were among the first to try new products while 48 percent say they would try a product only after others had.
Though DVR users had generally subscribed to digital cable services for about 14 months, only 2 percent said they had dabbled in DVR service before.
"It's a very different demographic, which is really why we were interested in doing this research, because as you begin to deploy a leased model across a broader subscriber base, you have a very different sample you are looking at," said S-A director of strategic marketing for subscriber networks Dave Davies.
For example, "technically interested" didn't translate to "technically confident" — and that could have implications for cable operators trying to gauge the installation picture.
A majority — some 62 percent — opted to have a cable technician install the box, despite the fact that for many who already had older S-A boxes, "it really is just as easy as unplugging one set-top box and plugging in another set-top box," Davies said.
There was some potential good news for operators: DVR seems to translate into more time spent in front of the tube.
Some 52 percent of those surveyed said they watched more TV with their DVR service than before, while 43 percent said they watch a wider range of channels.
Time Warner Cable executive vice president and chief marketing officer Chuck Ellis backed up those findings in a recent interview with Multichannel News On Demand. He said the consumer research on DVR and video-on-demand products showed "it enhances their video life and the rest of their life. It allows them to be in charge when they get their entertainment and doesn't interrupt with things they want to do."
That trend toward increased viewing also is borne out with respect to the features box users most frequently employ. The top vote-getter was the dual tuner, as 66 percent of respondents said they regularly recorded one show while watching another.
Davies said that was something of a surprise.
"Many of the set-top boxes that are out on the market today — stand-alone boxes — are single tuner, and in fact quite a large percentage of the satellite boxes are single-tuner," he said. "It's a very strong selling point for the Explorer 8000 and for cable, because cable can seamlessly offer that dual-tuner functionality to subscribers, whether it is for [an] analog or digital channel."
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DVR service might also affect the customer's perception of their cable operator.
About 28 percent said their satisfaction with their local MSO had increased, while 42 percent said it had somewhat increased.
Even more telling for S-A: customers ranked DVR service ahead of digital cable or premium channel packages.
About 78 percent of respondents gave DVR high marks, compared to 75 percent for digital cable and 72 percent for premium channels.
With cable DVR service still in its infancy, the survey is a crucial early read of consumer reaction, Davies said.
"Overall, I think we were very excited about the findings," Davies said. "It suggests there is significant potential for DVR, and the product may appeal to a very broad base of both analog and digital subscribers."