Having made it brain-dead simple to watch television without the commercials, TiVo Inc. now is trying out a new role: the advertisers’ friend.
Today, the San Jose-based company plans to start selling the data it collects from the more than 700,000 recorders in viewers’ homes. This data will give the TV industry a moment-by-moment breakdown of how TiVo owners react to their commercials or shows.
By showing which commercials get skipped and when, the information could help advertisers find more effective ways to reach viewers, said Larry Gerbrandt, chief operating officer for Kagan World Media, a media and technology research firm.
“They would love to have the data. They’re going to hate to see what it says,” Gerbrandt said.
TiVo boxes, like other digital recorders that store video on a hard drive instead of tape, enable users to pause, rewind, replay and fast-forward through programs as they’re broadcast. They also make it so easy to record shows that their users shift their viewing habits to watch most programs after they’ve aired.
The recorders keep track of how programs are viewed, noting each time someone uses the remote control to alter the playback. They also send this data back to TiVo’s headquarters each day, but the company says the data are scrambled and compiled to protect each viewer’s anonymity.
TiVo plans to sell customized reports on viewing patterns during programs, as well as a quarterly report on programs’ ability to retain viewers through their commercial breaks. The latter was developed with the help of Starcom MediaVest Group of Chicago, a large advertising agency.
Richard Fielding, research director for Starcom USA, said fewer than 3% of all U.S. homes have a personal video recorder, yet “we genuinely believe that there’s going to be rapid deployment of these technologies.” That’s why the industry needs more information about the effect these recorders have on viewing habits generally, and commercials in particular.
In a preliminary study of 11,000 homes, Fielding said, Starcom found that 77% of the viewers watching recorded programs fast-forwarded through the commercials, while only 17% did so when watching shows as they were broadcast or shortly thereafter. That’s not much consolation for advertisers, though, because Starcom also found that TiVo owners recorded almost two-thirds of their shows for later viewing.
Gerbrandt said the data offered by TiVo could answer numerous questions for advertisers even when their commercials were skipped, helping them develop commercials that people wouldn’t skip so readily. For example, the reports could show how much of a commercial viewers watched before fast-forwarding, and whether certain types of commercials were compelling enough to be replayed.
The television industry’s main window into viewers’ habits has been the reports from Nielsen Media Research. But Nielsen gets reports from only about a dozen homes with TiVos, reflecting the low percentage of homes with this kind of recorder, Fielding said.
One problem with the Nielsen reports, Gerbrandt said, is that “a lot of people leave the room when the TV set is on, so you don’t know whether they watch a commercial.” With the TiVo data, he said, “you will know whether they’re in front of the TV with the remote in their hands.”