With Digital Video Recorders -- Viewing Times, They Are A-Changin'

By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 13, 2005

Matt and Pam Fisher enjoy ABC shows "Lost" and "Alias," which air on Wednesday nights, and Fox's "The O.C.," which airs on Thursday nights. But the couple rarely watches those shows when the networks broadcast them.

Instead, they rely on their digital video recorder to find, record and store the shows for viewing at a later time -- putting them in the vanguard of television viewers.

"Fridays are sacred for us," Matt Fisher said. "Unless I'm out on the road, I try to get out of the office by 7, then it's: Get ho me, walk the dogs, order some food and catch up on the week of TV."

Fisher, 38, is a field producer for Endemol Nederland, which makes ABC's reality show, "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," the program that renovates the homes of regular folks. When the show is shooting, Fisher is on-site from the moment the show's crew knocks on the door of the lucky homeowner to the "reveal," when the owners see the finished product. That means week after week of 18- to 20-hour days, stealing a few winks in a production vehicle.

Pam Fisher, 35, a lawyer for another television network, keeps a lawyer's long hours, negotiating contracts and deals, especially during this time of year, when networks are creating pilots for next fall's season.

Fisher can use his desktop computer to program his TiVo digital video recorder over the Internet. Often, he punches in the names of his favorite actors and directors, and the TiVo finds and records their upcoming movies to be watched later in the couple's Venice, Calif., home.

"VCRs are such a pain," he said. "I certainly know how to program one, but I just never did."

Digital video recorders such as TiVo can be purchased at consumer electronics stores or obtained through subscription plans offered by DirecTV, Dish Network and most cable systems. Only about 4 percent of all U.S. television households have DVRs now, but the number is growing. (By comparison, about 88 percent of homes have VCRs.) The Consumer Electronics Association predicts 2.6 million units will be sold this year, up from 1.9 million last year. TiVo will get wider distribution from a recent deal with Comcast Corp., the nation's largest cable company, with 21.5 million subscribers.

The devices have created a new kind of television viewer.

"I don't even know when most of the things I watch originally air," writes Gainesville, Fla., resident and TiVo user Randy Switt in an e-mail, "and I don't care."

Brad Ferguson of Walkersville, Md., recorded the entire last season of ABC's "NYPD Blue," watched it all at once and discovered that "the final season played pretty well as a 22-hour-long movie."

In addition to the time-shifting ability of DVRs, people are using them to skip commercials, which lets them watch more television: A "half-hour" sitcom with no commercials is only 22 minutes long. Also, they are programming their DVRs remotely from the Internet, hacking them to add more memory, plugging them into home computer networks and using them to burn movies onto DVDs.

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