TiVo System Tip of Iceberg

Jun 9, 2003  •  Post A Comment

TiVo’s new quarterly reporting service, which tracks the second-by-second prime-time viewing patterns of its digital-video-recorder subscribers, is just the first step down a data-collection road that will enlist cable’s biggest multiple system operators in the larger effort to measure, and target ads to, upmarket digital-cable subscribers by ZIP code and ZIP code-plus four.
That’s the word from two senior executives at Chicago-based Starcom MediaVest Group, which developed methodology and metrics for the TiVo system, announced last week.
Advanced digital-cable set-top boxes can already collect viewing data from subscribers. Every time a digital-cable subscriber hits the remote, the data is “being captured,” said Richard Fielding, VP and director of research, Starcom USA. The question is how and when the data will be advantageously used.
Basic issues to be addressed include privacy concerns-agencies, networks and MSOs alike vow they will only aggregate anonymous information-and standardization, since the MSOs are “all over the place,” according to Tim Hanlon, VP and director of emerging contacts, Starcom MediaVest Group. Mr. Hanlon compared the state of digital cable with the early days of the Internet, when “you had Web sites from all over the place saying, `Here’s our log files. Here’s our traffic,’ and you couldn’t judge the value or compare apples to oranges and bananas.”
National Processor
What’s required, Mr. Hanlon said, is a neutral auditor, a national “processor or numbers cruncher that allows Cablevision and Comcast and Cox to take all their various systems and put it through a sieve.”
Mr. Fielding called for an “industry-level body … that arrives at gold-standard processing procedures that would allow all the individual entities to process their own data, but to industry-agreed standards and algorithms and procedures. … People analyzing the data would have the ability to understand patterns of viewing across set-tops.”
One of Starcom’s main goals, he added, is to “get people thinking about it now.”
“We are already starting to have conversations with those folks,” Mr. Hanlon said. For example, “If the networks ever want to bring advertisers along into … free or ad-supported video-on-demand environments, they’re going to need to know the numbers, too, so they can sell it.”
Starcom is already participating in several video-on-demand and advertising trials, both MSO- and network-centric, including various experiments with Cablevision and TechTV and Starcom client Best Buy; and with Comcast and Time Warner Cable, Cartoon Network and Food Network and Starcom client Kraft Foods. Generally, the experiments are aimed at determining how many digital subscribers will “click to watch” ad-only video or a show with the advertiser’s content embedded in it.
In one recent experiment on Cablevision’s digital-cable tier, for example, two two-minute long-form James Bond-themed videos for client Best Buy on TechTV’s interactive channel were the “most seen pieces of video for those two months [of the experiment] on the … channel,” Mr. Hanlon said. “That tells us that long-form content, if it’s compelling, will be seen a lot.”
“With all due respect to TiVo,” he added, “our [larger] idea is to get insights into this emerging world of time-shifted and recorded and manipulatible programming of the future.”
While TiVo and its like seem to be in nearly every senior TV and advertising executive’s home already, TiVo, overall, is in only approximately 700,000 homes nationally, so the larger predictive value of its current upscale early-adopter universe is open to question.
“TiVo is a very nice crystal ball into the future-if you adequately compensate for the fact that you have an innovative group of people and can somehow understand how their viewing behavior is going to change over time as [personal video recorders] are more widely dispersed among the population,” is how David Ernst, director of futures and technologies, Initiative Media, put it.
The initial essential finding of the TiVo report, which collected moment-by-moment prime-time program and advertisement viewing data from approximately 11,000 of those TiVo homes, will be a worry to an industry on constant lookout for its next so-called water-cooler hit: “Programming that created the greatest sense of urgency and immediate desire to watch was most successful at retaining viewers from start to finish and through commercial breaks,” according to TiVo.
In other words, “Friends,” “24” and other popular scripted programs tend to get recorded for later viewing by TiVo owners. But their commercials are the ones that tend to get skipped during subsequent time-shifted viewing. With the “45th Annual Grammy Awards” and “60 Minutes,” which TiVo owners are more likely to view live or “near live,” viewers are more likely to watch the commercials too.
According to the TiVo report, fully 75 percent of TiVo viewers stayed in “play” mode during “Grammy” commercial breaks, and 69.7 percent of TiVo viewers stayed in “play” for “60 Minutes,” but the percentage watching the ads plunged to 39 percent for both Fox’s “24” and NBC’s “Friends.”
Programs in which TiVo owners also watch the commercials demonstrate “stickiness,” according to the report.
Scripted programs, both sitcoms and dramas, tend to be the least “sticky,” while reality, news and event programs tend to be watched live or close to live-ads and all-even in DVR homes, according to TiVo.
For example, NBC’s “Fear Factor” and ABC’s “20/20” carried 58 percent and 57 percent, respectively, of their TiVo viewers through the commercials, while commercials were watched in such Nielsen ratings magnets such as CBS’s “CSI: Miami” and Fox’s “American Idol” by only 46 percent and 45 percent, respectively, of TiVo viewers.
But those early-adopting TiVo owners may, in fact, have bought their personal video recorders precisely because they like TV viewing more-and commercial watching less-than the Joe and Jane Sixpacks of the larger TV universe, and so went out of their way to buy expensive techno toys that would enable them to skip ads, Initiative’s Mr. Ernst suggested.