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ESPN Garners Highest TV Ratings For EPL In US History


Earlier today I wrote a post breaking the news that ESPN had garnered the highest ratings for a Premier League game in US history with a viewing audience of 374,799 for last weekend’s Wigan against Manchester United broadcast. Well, I spoke too soon. That record has now been smashed by Monday’s TV ratings for ESPN2’s coverage of Liverpool against Aston Villa.

According to an ESPN spokesperson, the broadcast of Liverpool against Aston Villa garnered a rating of 0.3. The 3pm ET game was viewed in 339,696 TV households, and the total viewing audience was 398,391. That’s just 1,609 viewers short of the 400k mark.

The incredible ratings for the first three Premier League games aired on ESPN2 reflect an average viewing audience of 312,558 — which is quite impressive based on the last-minute acquisition of the TV rights (just 12 hours before the Chelsea against Hull game kicked off) and relatively little advertising and word of mouth exposure. In comparison, the average rating for a Premier League game shown on Fox Soccer Channel last season was 90,000.

It’s still early days yet for ESPN’s coverage of the 2009/2010 season. At this rate, and with the help of the fixture computer, it’s very possible that ESPN will be able to break the 500k number in terms of viewers, which would be an incredible milestone for the network to reach in the United States.

While Fox Soccer Channel and Setanta Sports have been faithful participants in bringing the Premier League to United States television in recent years, there’s something different about ESPN and the power that the network holds. Part of it is the availability of the channel, which is much more widespread than Fox and Setanta. But it’s also a sense that the Premier League has finally arrived — in the mainstream.

By ESPN doing that, this will also benefit Fox Soccer Channel and Setanta Sports as fans new to football will seek out other networks for the matches that ESPN are not showing.

This season, the Premier League and ESPN have an opportunity to bring a whole new audience of Americans who previously were not soccer fans into the game. A similar phenomenon happens every four years at World Cup time when the massive coverage of the sport brings the games into households who are curious about the tournament and what it makes it so popular.

That’s something that FSC and Setanta can only do by dribs and drabs, while ESPN can flood the market. Between all three networks, we’re in store for the best coverage of a Premier League season ever.

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  1. mcthingy2

    August 27, 2009 at 11:34 am

    Haha — funny we all do the same thing with ESPN’s bottom ticker! I actually got out some masking tape last Saturday morning….and my wife stopped me: “you’re not putting that across our new $1200 flat-screen TV”. Oh well….guess it’s the fingers for me as well.

  2. Efrain

    August 27, 2009 at 8:57 am

    I wonder if cable companies know what your watching. I mean, the box is programmed to communicate two-way. Information is constantly sent to the box to check status, make sure your getting the channels you ordered, etc. And, info is sent out, such as if we order Pay Per View or On-Demand via remote control. So I wonder if they know what we are watching and perhaps what we have recorded on the DVR. It would be great if they did monitor and a more accurate assesment than Nielsen. If they do have this info, then I wonder if cable companies share the info with broadcasters.

    *Go Arsenal!*

  3. KevFu

    August 27, 2009 at 4:07 am

    Soccer should increase in popularity in the States in the next few years.

    ESPN having games is a good thing. The numbers are relatively modest, but half the target demographic is asleep when the games come on. I’ve just recently made the leap from “watching MNT games/Chicago Fire/quality national team competions” to “waking up early for EPL.” And I’m not alone.

    Consider that virtually ALL of the EPL ratings will come from the eastern two time zones (65% of the population) due to time zones. It’s 5 am in Los Angeles for the ESPN2 game.

    ESPN’s coverage/marketing is already way better than they treated the NHL when they had that sport.

    Of course, the downside is that while I watch my team live, I DVR any game I get on my TV (2-5 a week) to watch after an afternoon nap. And now ESPN’s putting scores on the bottom line and spoiling the results. You used to be able to watch the games whenever without worry of being tipped off. NO ONE would tell you the scores. So, there’s a consequence of exposure!

    • Matthew N

      August 27, 2009 at 10:55 am

      lol, I hold a couple fingers in front of my face to block the soccer scores as they flash by 🙂

      • The Gaffer

        August 27, 2009 at 11:14 am

        That’s too funny! I do the same thing myself. It’s a bit ridiculous, I know, but I don’t want to know the scores of the other games I’m taping otherwise it ruins the experience for me.

        The Gaffer

        • Simon Burke

          August 27, 2009 at 11:50 am

          Seems to be the ticker on Saturday’s united game popped up every 15 mins – as soon as I saw it pop up I switched to Man City on Fox for a minute and then came back so I could watch Arsenal on tape delay.

  4. Jake

    August 27, 2009 at 1:02 am

    Do you have a comparison between the ratings of the UEFA CL last year on ESPN compared to their coverage of the EPL so far. Thanks.

  5. Jake

    August 27, 2009 at 12:59 am

    I wonder what effect if any the college football season and NFL starting in a few weeks will have on the Epl & La Liga. Now I know that they are on at different times but many like myself DVR EPL games on early in the morning and watch it with some breakfast a couple hours later. But some people have to chose what to watch since there are only so many hours in a day. Hopefully my concerns are wrong.

  6. Thomas

    August 26, 2009 at 9:31 pm

    I think a positive developement from ESPN airing the EPL and La Liga is that there is a constant availabilty of top class football. In years past, you would get all the World Cup/Euro games, and thne some of the UEFA CL games. But you casual fans didn’t have the exposure.

    THere’s generally lots of momentum when it comes to the world cup here. But now people are starting to get a chance to follow the players they see there year round. I think it’s a positive step.

  7. Jon

    August 26, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    When its the only game on and features one of the glamour clubs then ratings will always be high

  8. NewtonHeath

    August 26, 2009 at 11:08 am

    Gaffer, you don’t happen to have the ratings for what was previously on ESPN during those timeslots do you? I think that’s important to look at for them to say “okay we are giving up x-content but bringing in y-content… did it perform better in that timeslot?”

    I don’t think comparisons between FSC ratings and ESPN’s ratings are fair either simply because you have to pay to get FSC in practically all cases, whereas ESPN is more mainstream and thus all the non-payers come out of the woodwork to watch for the ESPN ratings. If FSC were mainstream and/or free then their numbers would be higher too.

    Either way though, great stuff to see.


    • The Gaffer

      August 26, 2009 at 12:32 pm

      NH, sorry mate but I don’t have those numbers. Again, I’m sure they’re higher than what programming ESPN2 was showing previously. For ESPN, it’s a win-win. More eyeballs during off-peak hours of Saturday morning and mid-afternoons on Monday.

      The Gaffer

    • Panda

      August 26, 2009 at 4:13 pm

      ESPN’s daily viewership is around 1 million. That is daily, not including primetime which is almost double their daily viewership. Actually, now that I think of it. I believe that’s only ESPN’s numbers…not ESPN2 (which is in slightly less homes than ESPN and in some markets is only available on a premium tier with FSC) so I’m fairly certain this was ESPN2’s biggest audience this year for a non American live sporting event.

  9. Ford Prefect

    August 26, 2009 at 9:44 am

    MLS Live Attendance
    2009 Average 15,826.13
    2008 Average 16,487.55
    Change -4.01%

    MLS TV Ratings
    2008 26 0.2 253,000
    2007 25 0.2 289,000
    2006 21 0.2 263,000

    Attendance in the biggest markets (NY, LA, Dallas, Washington, DC, Chicago) all down between 19-25% btw 2008 and 2009–Doesn’t look like alot of interest in going to the local park to see second rate football even without the saturation of football from Europe–Hard to get behind a product that continues to field the same poor squads (esp. see-NY, my own hometown club Dallas) year after year–The fact that it’s struggling given the enormous advantages (esp. the arm twisting that got them favorable tv deals) is why I find it hard to see maintaining it as both TV and advertisers move to better product from Europe–I think they could still get a tv deal if dropped by ESPN, it just won’t be for as much money because as ESPN moves in FSC costs to cover the Euro leagues (even given their relationship to Sky) will go up which will mean less for MLS coverage–in other words MLS gets squeezed out as TV follows the money to Europe–Just not sure the league is sustainable if the revenue drops

    • Matthew N

      August 26, 2009 at 10:10 am

      I’m sure the economy has nothing to do with any of this. Nor does the fact that a lot of the LA numbers are inflated because of Beckham-hype. Nor does the fact that RBNY were runner up in the playoffs last year but the worst team in MLS history this year. Recessions and unemployment hit the megacities the hardest, and a lot of immigrant populations (with whom soccer would be popular with) are often the most vulnerable. The numbers may not lie, but they certainly mislead. Please refrain from these disingenuous arguments.

    • Matthew N

      August 26, 2009 at 10:12 am

      I hate leaving two comments, but you also have to keep in mind that people have pride in their local team. A lot of people who are fans of Houston Dynamo, for example, aren’t going to stop supporting their local team just because they take a liking to Chelsea or something. Also, remember that European football is on at weird hours of the day for Americans. I don’t think you’re going to see American fans shunning the MLS for the EPL or La Liga because the MLS is on during PRIME TIME and the Euro leagues are on early in the AM or during working hours.

    • szazzy

      August 26, 2009 at 4:00 pm

      Remarkably stable in a competitive environment and recession to me. Each of those clubs can point the blame directly at their front office, except maybe DC where it’s probably equal parts front office, performance, and recession.

      More and more investors are clamoring to get into the league. Even assuming that this attendance drop in some markets is permanent, don’t you think the additions of Philidelphia, Portland, Vancouver, and possibly Montreal will bolster attendance and TV ratings to at least current stable levels? Way too much doomsday in the face of many positive developments.

    • Michael

      August 26, 2009 at 6:06 pm

      Your true colors are showing with your “second-rate football” remarks.

      Notwithstanding that only a 4% decline (from record attendance last year) in a cratered economy is actually pretty good, of course attendance is down in the markets you mention: all but Chicago haven’t been very successful of late, with the Red Bulls particularly hapless, Beckham’s no longer a novelty, and the Fire is shackled with a stadium that’s hard to access from the city. Attendance is up in cities like Salt Lake and Columbus (and even LA for Chivas), and KC is packing the small ballpark that is their temporary home while their new stadium is built. And with the Galaxy finally looking playoff-bound and Red Bull unlikely to accept a bad team impacting their new-arena earn, expect major market attendance to bounce back, with TV following.

      MLS’ expansion strategy is looking great: Toronto and Seattle run capacity crowds every game and have management that espouses more exciting soccer. Toronto’s games are nationally televised in Canada. Seattle not only will shatter the MLS single-season attendance record, they sell huge amounts of merchandise, and will be largely responsible for an overall increase in ESPN’s viewership this year. Portland and Vancouver will add not only hotbeds that already draw big with USL teams but also a regional rivalry that should boost interest for MLS in general.

      Bottom line: all of this brings in revenues for MLS as a whole.

      In addition, people excited about soccer will want to see the game live. Since none of the approximately 8-10 top Euro teams play many games here, people will check out their local MLS team. With solid supporter groups in most cities, even a “second-rate” squad is enhanced greatly by a fan experience that frankly is better than that of most US pro sports and is really only surpassed by college athletics.

      Finally, don’t expect ESPN to know how to market any sport: their answer to declining MLB ratings was to dramatically increase the number of Yankees and Red Sox games on their schedule. Their current MLS strategy of all-Beckham all the time had to reach the point of diminishing returns. MLS has to find a better hook, and that’s not a quick fix.

      People get frustrated with the slow-and-steady approach MLS has taken, but it looks on a number of fronts to have been the right idea. The existence of EPL on US TV shouldn’t change that.

  10. szazzy

    August 26, 2009 at 7:24 am

    The best players aren’t going to play here without paying well above market value anyway to leave Champions League, and for most players it still wouldn’t be enough of a lure.

  11. man99utd

    August 26, 2009 at 7:03 am

    First, let me say that ESPN is doing a great job thus far with EPL coverage. I think it can only help the MLS, but only if the MLS makes some drastic changes. It’s not just about money, but time and talent. The salary cap hinders the MLS from signing the best players in the world. But our reliance on the draft, i.e. college players, will ensure that the best players go elsewhere. Why? Because of youth contracts for players as young as 15 years, if not younger. Football is somewhat like tennis in that the best talent is snapped quite early.

  12. szazzy

    August 26, 2009 at 5:56 am

    You didn’t hurt my feelings, just my intelligence.

    Everyone knows the EPL and most European leagues are better. That’s the point on why your take is nonsense. If the current fans already know this, do you honestly see a massive drop of interest in attending local matches and watching local teams because they’re so enthralled with the match they saw last Monday or Saturday morning between teams thousands of miles away? Really? The two products are completely compatible. A lot of soccer fans list allegiances to multiple teams. The best American players don’t play here now and MLS is more popular than ever. Seattle plays Chelsea and the stadium is sold out with Seattle fans rooting for a Seattle team even in the face of such superior quality.

    MLS’ survival has never been reliant on TV rights money unless you’re talking about SUM and they’re doing fine regardless. The whole league is set up around sustainability even if several investors bail.

    Also, why do you assume MLS would have NO TV deal if ESPN were to drop them? Another channel wanting content that appeals to a growing demographic could emerge even if it’s a smaller station. They still have deals with Telefutura and FSC.

  13. szazzy

    August 26, 2009 at 3:28 am

    Anyone thinking that ESPN showing EPL games will hurt MLS is a moron. The fans that were ignoring MLS in favor of a foreign team already had access to them. Fans of MLS already know what the game looks like at the highest levels, and choose to support MLS anyway.

    I think MLS would readily take lots of new soccer fans in America, even if they’re not following MLS yet. It’s cliche but true – a rising tide lifts all boats.

    If ESPN drops MLS, that could hurt the league, but the league being supported by FIFA and the USSF in regards to TV rights is considerable leverage.

    • Ford Prefect

      August 26, 2009 at 3:56 am

      I apologize if I hurt your feelings–I fell in love w/ the English game back when fox first showed the EPL in its 1st season and have loved that the game is finally getting exposure in the US–Certainly makes it easier to find a better match when Fox is doing bottom of the table match–I just think the Euro game is superior–It’s not cliche to say that Europe-esp. England, Spain, Italy, and Germany-is where they best players in the world go to play–I don’t wish MLS ill, i just think that tv is going to follow the money to Europe and that MLS will get squeezed out in the process–MLS just doesn’t have the resources to survive without tv–I think it’s really sad b/c it will be a 2 sided coin for US National team–I think that best US players playing in Europe would only make them better, but w/o MLS giving more players the chance to play on a consistent basis it hurts the depth of the squad, and some guys who might fall thru the cracks w/o MLS will be lost

      • Matthew N

        August 26, 2009 at 10:08 am

        I think you’re really doing yourself a disservice if you’re a fan of the EPL and not the MLS. The MLS is where OUR players grow. Sure, the most talented go overseas because the Euro leagues are the best, but the MLS isn’t trying to compete with them! The goal of the MLS is to promote soccer to the general US public and provide a solid place for US talent to grow. Unless you’re not American or you have no sense of national pride (or do not care for international play), it is really self-defeating to dislike the MLS. The US National Team’s play will improve as the MLS gets better. Every great soccer nation has its own prestigious league, the US can be no different.

  14. DC

    August 26, 2009 at 1:44 am

    It is all about HD!!

  15. Paul

    August 26, 2009 at 1:17 am

    I meant to be sarcastic there, but there might be wisdom in my irony. The EPL on EPSN might hurt MLS in the short run, pulling viewers from an already limited viewership. I tend to this most of these MLS viewers are hard-core fans who would have already watched the EPL games if they were avaible, or were already watching on Senata and FSC. I don’t think there are too many noobs who, having seen the brilliance of Villa-Liverpool or watching Man U take apart Wigan, will now decide to renig their regular MLS viewship. It will be interesting to see how MLS tv numbers do. (If our soccer pudits could write a bit about this, I’d appreciate it…)

    In the long run, I tend to think this will probably be a benefit for the leauge. It will certainly create a larger number of soccer fans, who, naturally, will look for games to watch live in their own areas. Generally, competition will finally come to America for soccer; MLS will be forced to encourage better play through higher saleries, bringing in better foreign players, increasing the salary cap, and encouraging more investment. Overall, this is a great event for the game itself–even if it hurts the MLS in the short or long run. The league is strong enough to take a hit on tv ratings–but not for too long. Time for MLS to work for their American fans and see how much of a demand there is for an American soccer league.

    • Ford Prefect

      August 26, 2009 at 3:33 am

      Yeah I got the sarcasm bit, but also saw the wisdom in the irony–Agree it won’t affect the hard core MLS fans–they’re the ones in the stands–But, IMO hard core football fans would rather see the flair/creativity/beauty of the Euro game–Can’t really share you’re optimism for American soccer in general and MLS in particular–Admit I look at the U.S. scene with a jaundiced eye b/c I think its the weaker sister to the Euro Game and think that top U.S. players ought to be plying their trade in Europe–If you want to be the best you need to play against the best–Happy to see Altidore move to Hull and have an immediate impact–Just can’t see the current league surviving if Americans get a taste of not only BPL, but Serie A, La Liga, Champions League, et al–Think even noobs will notice the difference and wonder why the U.S. game isn’t as exciting as the Euro game

    • eplnfl

      August 26, 2009 at 7:33 am

      That’s how I see it Paul. MLS will admit soccer is ready to go mainstream, ESPN will know from it’s EPL audience that fans will watch great soccer and push MLS along to be real major league soccer!

      FSC will benefit from the cross-promotion by ESPN. The question is on the new contract how will the rigths be divided. ESPN has the two time slots they want. I think a third one will be all they can handle or want. Will the numbers back them say a Saturday 10:00am EST looks real good even if it runs up against some NCAA football or will they say early Sunday morning is a better schedule fit or a midweek game. It’s exciting to be a fan right now.

  16. Lyle

    August 26, 2009 at 12:47 am

    Good stuff. Go ESPN, go!

  17. Paul

    August 26, 2009 at 12:03 am

    Did like the coverage–R.benjamin says it well. Let’s just say it is a step up from Mun2. Really, better than I expected, given ESPN’s ghetto-ing of soccer on its channels (putting it on ESPN 2, not giving us a weekend review show for Champions league when even the pro-bass people get one on Saturday, the silly manner sportscenter idiots treat the game, having its talking heads speak (Rome, John Anderson) out against the soccer, ect.).

    Still, ESPN’s general ghetto-ing continued after the match, as the channel cut to “expanded coverage” of NASCAR rather than going back for continued analysis of a great match. I smell something racist/anti-European here. Generally, I hate the idea that ESPN is garnering these ratings. I wish that Fox Soccer Channel and Setanta could get better numbers for all the loyalty they have given us over the years. But this is—despite the tripe that is sports on ESPN—a fantastic thing for fans of the beautiful game in the US. Like it or not, the general American fan needs to introduced to the game for soccer to succeed in the US, and ESPN’s coverage is quality enough, and even more than enough, to be a stepping stone to greater things. The game will sell itself—we just need a big enough spotlight on it, and the sense to adequately produce it.

    Now here is the question: how will Jaime Trecker spin this in a negative light? He—Mother hen to chicken little Kartik, as Kartik didn’t get schizophrenic until he listened to too much Trecker—already believe that the “downfall” of the US men’s national team is going to kill the positive momentum from the Confederations Cup, damning the sport to pre-Italy ’90 levels of interest. Here’s the lead for Trecker’s next story: The sky is falling now more than ever: the US fan will have a standard—on the “World Wide leader,” no less—to compare the national team with, disgusting multitudes of potential fans into cheering for other national teams or leaving the sport entirely, depressed with the state of soccer in the States and distraught that such wonderful ball will never be played on American soil. Curse you, Bob Bradley, the surge of US soccer, destroyer of dreams and all that is beautiful!

    • Ford Prefect

      August 26, 2009 at 12:53 am

      Agree with u Paul–the BPL will sell itself given the proper stage–Been a huge fan since it started even tho there was lmtd coverage (just had to follow on the computer/tv as best ucould)–My thoughts are that if ESPN continues to expand their coverage, it may mean the end for MLS as well b/c it’s going to be hard for them to get big revenue for tv deals–To be frank given the choice btw watching BPL & MLS it’s BPL every time–Like the choice btw watching a Minor League or Major League Baseball game

      • Evan

        August 26, 2009 at 8:18 am

        I don’t think the MLS will end anytime soon. You have to remember that MLS is played in the summer and BPL in the winter. There is not much overlap between the two leagues. I watch MLS alot in the summer and BPL alot when the season starts.

        • Matthew N

          August 26, 2009 at 10:04 am

          Normal people like me and you also can’t just hop on a plane and go to a Premier League match whenever we feel like it. I can, however, hop in a car and go see the Columbus Crew play each weekend.

  18. Tyson

    August 25, 2009 at 11:44 pm

    On a much smaller scale of course but the American friends I’ve introduced to football have stuck with it as well.

    I think in a decade or two it will be quite a big sport in America it seems to be getting positive reactions from what I’ve gathered.

  19. R.benjamin

    August 25, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    The coverage of the Aston Villa v Liverpool match was my favorite that I’ve seen. Great angles though it might be the HD that allowed me to appreciate them..and great graphics. Quick and informative and first class. Swoosh.. Lucas linked to Corinthians move earlier this summer..swoosh. I felt the first class espn production was finally meeting the first class game and thank god wasn’t over done.

  20. Brad in SoCal

    August 25, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    Now if ESPN would allow us to “favorite” soccer/football and the EPL on its website, that would be a good sign too.

  21. Fletcher

    August 25, 2009 at 9:25 pm

    First, ESPN coverage has been spot on so far. Great job! The second thing that should be mentioned is the coverage of select FSC Champions League games on the regional Fox Sports Networks–in HD. While not every game is available in this form, it is a step in the right direction. DirecTV also has a nifty option on channels 461-469 that makes it easy to pick which match you want to watch on each CL Matchday, some in HD and some not.

    I have just gotten HD DirecTV and I pity anyone who has cable or Dish this season. It is absolutely wonderful to have so many high quality ways to watch EPL, Champions League, and all other things soccer!

    • NewtonHeath

      August 26, 2009 at 11:04 am

      fletch, if you don’t mind me asking, how much does hd directv run a month if you’re wanting every footy channel you can get?

      • leviramsey

        August 26, 2009 at 10:08 pm

        I pay about $90 total a month for SD DirecTV (2 receivers plus DVR) plus sports pack (for FSC and Gol) plus Setanta. I believe that HD runs you an extra $5-$10 a month.

        So about $100 a month for HD plus all the footy.

  22. JW

    August 25, 2009 at 9:12 pm

    I think what will be really interesting is not how the ratings compare to EPL games in the past–really, it was only natural they’d be higher on ESPN–but how they compare to other ESPN programming (i.e. baseball, college basketball/football, etc.).

  23. Greg

    August 25, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    I’m wondering if DVR viewers are counted. I was at work Monday afternoon, but recorded the game and watched it when I got home.

    • ovalball

      August 25, 2009 at 10:29 pm

      This point has been made before, but no one is “counted”, live or DVR, who isn’t part of a Nielson household. All ratings are based on a small nationwide statistical sample taken through Nielson boxes. Total viewers, etc. are then calculated from that sample.

      • winstongator

        August 26, 2009 at 10:05 am

        Having been a nielsen household, they account for DVR, but slightly differently. Advertisers care about the difference because you’re not watching the halftime commercials on the dvr but might live.

  24. Angry Trey

    August 25, 2009 at 8:50 pm

    Great news! As long as the games keep getting ratings, it will hopefully force ESPN to keep showing games for years to come.

  25. man99utd

    August 25, 2009 at 8:48 pm

    outstanding ratings…i do not want to sound harsh, but maybe now espn will convince their american presenters from slagging off the beautiful game.

    • ovalball

      August 25, 2009 at 10:32 pm

      You’re not being harsh, just accurate. It is really annoying to hear them give their little snicker before they show a soccer highlight.

  26. Greg

    August 25, 2009 at 8:37 pm

    Fantastic news. ESPN will definitely be a MAJOR force to be reckoned with when the EPL broadcast rights come up for bidding.

  27. dlink09

    August 25, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    for Monday afternoon that is a very good number.. not sure if they included me(DVR) in the count 🙂

    • Jetplane

      August 26, 2009 at 11:55 pm

      don’t worry about that. nielsen sends out meters to a random sample of people to hook up to their sets. than they monitor the results and make an estimation on the whole population with the data. ever saw a really good show that failed because of inexplicably low ratings? (arrested development for example) its because the sample were a bunch of mouth breathers watching jon and kate plus 8 or some other trash. its a flawed system to say the least, but its the cheapest option currently available until technology allows for a more accurate view.
      Moral of the story: DVR w/o guilt (tho the advertisers did pay good money for their commercials to run)

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