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Zapping the fast forward

Mar 5, 2001  •  Post A Comment

ACTV has developed technology that can block the fast-forwarding of commercials on digital personal video recording devices such as TiVo, Electronic Media has learned.
But now that consumers can use PVRs to fast-forward through commercials, will they accept a device that prevents them from doing so?
“If this technology works, it’s probably a good idea to implement it,” said Jon Mandel, chief negotiating officer for MediaCom, the media arm of Grey Advertising.
“It depends whose ox is gored,” said Joe Ostrow, president and CEO of the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau. “Advertisers would clearly like it. I’m not so sure about consumers.”
Steve Grubbs, CEO of OMD, USA, the media unit of powerhouse ad agencies BBDO Worldwide, DDB Worldwide and TBWA Chiat Day, said unequivocally that “consumers would not endorse such a change.”
Minutes before speaking to Electronic Media, Mr. Grubbs, on a panel last week in New Orleans at the annual Media Conference and Trade Show of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, said he owned a TiVo unit and did indeed skip commercials when he watched shows the device had recorded.
He said this was true whether playing back a show recorded on the TiVo device days before, or if he was watching a show live and was interrupted by a phone call, hit the pause button and had then returned to the show-now recorded by TiVo.
Mr. Grubbs said in the former case he wouldn’t have watched the show if TiVo hadn’t recorded it, so he felt justified in skipping the commercials. In the latter case, he said he wouldn’t have seen the commercial anyway, since he was on the phone.
Indeed, in one of the general sessions at the conference, audience members were asked if they had TiVo or Replay PVRs, how many of them skipped commercials. A substantial number of people raised their hands. Said one media executive later to EM, “If those of us in the industry are using PVRs to skip commercials, imagine what the general public does and will do when such technology is commonplace in set-top boxes you get from your cable operator or satellite company.”
Though New York-based ACTV has the technology to prevent skipping through commercials, the company is also concerned with the issue of consumer acceptance.
“Yes, we have this technology to block the fast-forwarding of commercials, but we haven’t decided if we’re going to implement it, or exactly how,” said Arthur Cohen, ACTV’s senior vice president of advertising.
Mr. Cohen said the patented technology was very flexible and could be set up so that instead of stopping a PVR from fast-forwarding through a commercial, it could instead force an animated pop-up displaying some of an advertiser’s message as the fast forwarding continued. “That could be more palatable to consumers,” he said.
The way the technology works, he said, is that a special code embedded in the commercial could prevent the ad from being skipped over. Since it’s a digital process, it would not work in a nondigital, mechanical device like a VCR.
Mr. Cohen said as technology marches forward, it’s like a chess match. “The move on the board has technology threatening marketers from getting their message across. And as such, it threatens the entire economic structure of ad-supported TV. So now we’ve developed a technology that can be seen as a countermove.”
He said perhaps the consumer would accept the prevention of fast-forwarding of commercials if they realized the reason they don’t have to pay for TV programs is because there is an assumption that a large number of them are watching the commercials.
ACTV bills itself as a digital media company providing “tools and proprietary products for enhanced media.”
One of its products, from ACTV subsidiary Digital ADCO, is SpotOn. Soon to be deployed on an AT&T Broadband cable system to 42,000 homes in Aurora, Colo., SpotOn is a system that will deliver targeted ads to specific homes.
Mr. Cohen said it has yet to be determined if ACTV’s anti-fast-forwarding technology will be incorporated in any portion of the SpotOn test.
Besides ACTV, other parties involved in SpotOn include ad agencies Grey, Young & Rubicam’s The Media Edge, Starcom Worldwide and GSD&M. Other partner companies include Microsoft TV, Scientific-Atlanta, PowerTV, Liberate, nCUBE, Qpass, Net Perceptions, Nielsen Media Research, CYLO, ARTiFACT, Random/Order and Motorola Broadband Communications.