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Finessing the PVR user

Dec 30, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Personal video recorders are not a threat to Television As We Know It; rather, they represent a significant new opportunity for advertisers and ad-supported television.
That was the consensus of a recent panel that looked ahead to the PVR-influenced TV world of 2005, when millions of the time-shifting and ad-skipping devices are expected to be in use. (Forecasts range from around 6 million to around 15 million PVRs in homes by the middle of the decade).
PVRs may, for example, convert a portion of today’s direct marketing dollars into targeted ad sales. PVRs, the ultimate in targeting, will allow advertisers to make the “perfect media purchase,” said Michael Collette, CEO of Ucentric Systems, which creates software for PVRs. “People have been turning away from [TV] advertising for a very long time,” said Mr. Collette, pointing to TV clutter and the widespread practice of channel surfing during commercials.
“In the PVR space you don’t surf,” said Kevin Barry, VP, local sales and marketing, the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau, who moderated the panel on PVRs and ad sales, which was held earlier this month in Anaheim, Calif., as part of Broadband Plus (formerly the Western cable show).
The advent and impact of PVRs are all but inevitable, and the TV and ad industries better make their plans now, the panelists agreed. “It’s like crack: you never go back” is how panelist Laurie Coots, chief marketing officer, TBWA/Worldwide, put it. Some people on the agency side think the advent of PVRs is “Armageddon yet again,” she said, but “what if [some day] clutter is no longer a factor?”
Not only target demos but also psychographics are becoming increasingly irrelevant, she said. “Everybody on the planet wants the same deep-value relationship with the same high-value people,” she said, but consumers “just want to watch what they want to watch when they want to watch it and not be interrupted.”
In the world of PVRs, if you’re a viewer without young children in the house, she added, you will never have to watch a diaper ad. At TBWA, they don’t talk about “advertising” anymore, she said. “We talk about connecting brands with consumers.”
Ms. Coots predicted that many advertisers will resort to product placement as an expedient when PVRs begin to proliferate. Viewers will see “two to three years of the most appalling and offensive product placement,” she said. It will be “shlocky for a while until we get sophisticated.”
Comcast Corp., the largest multiple system operator in the country, already is planning for that day. Panelist Charlie Thurston, president, Comcast Cable Advertising, said that advanced digital set-top boxes with PVR capabilities will play an important role in Comcast’s future as well. Making use of the capabilities of PVR-enabled set-top boxes is the next step after building out today’s state-of-the-art digital interconnects, which offer demographically and psychographically segmented and targeted ad buys in each major market. In the coming PVR era, in some big markets, there may even be individually targeted commercials, assembled right in the digital set-top box in accord with each subscriber’s own psychographic profile.
In 2005 Comcast will begin to deploy technologies that already exist and “allow you to assemble and reassemble ads either at the server or on the set-top,” Mr. Thurston said. Instead of three ads being created by an agency for a particular client, 300 frames or segments will be created, and they can be mixed and matched and customized for different viewers. For example, instead of creating one ad appealing to prospective vacationers, ads specifically targeting singles, couples, golfers or scuba divers could easily be assembled.
The Advertising page is edited by Louis Chunovic, who can be reached by phone at 212-210-0233, by fax at 212-210-0400, or by e-mail at lchunovic@ crain.com.