Vignettes for Alltel Outsmart TiVo

Sep 24, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Finding ways to beat the digital video recorder, or at least slow down viewers’ itchy fast-forward finger, is something of an obsession for networks and advertisers.
After all, it’s hard to sell products to viewers who don’t see your commercials. And with the new commercial ratings system in place, advertisers don’t pay for the commercials in recorded shows unless they’re played back at normal speed.
One increasingly popular way to keep viewers watching during commercial breaks is to combine elements of the program with the sponsor’s message, often in a vignette specially produced for this purpose.
According to the DVR ratings for July from TiVo, this can work. Topping the ratings for most-watched commercials during time-shifted viewing was a vignette for Alltel that ran in a couple of episodes of “Psych” on USA Network.
This achievement was particularly notable because “Psych” was not one of the top 10 shows in time-shifted viewing, a list headed by an episode of Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance.”
The USA vignette was part of an animated series sponsored by Alltel called “Big Adventures of Little Shawn & Gus.” The series features animated versions of “Psych’s” lead characters as children. A large enough number of the show’s viewers were interested in the vignettes to take their fingers off the fast-forward button, perhaps long enough to receive the Alltel marketing message.
“Most people watching in time-shifted mode are going to fast-forward through commercials—it’s just a fact,” said Todd Juenger, VP and general manager of TiVo Audience Research & Measurement.
But TiVo’s ratings service, Stop Watch, shows that some commercials get fast-forwarded less than others.
According to TiVo, only 28% of “Psych” viewers zipped past the Alltel vignettes, compared to 74% who skipped the other spots in the same pod.
“Whether the spots had the desired impact for the Alltel brand is a different question, but they certainly succeeded in significantly increasing time-shifted viewership of their ad message,” Mr. Juenger said. “There are hundreds of similar experiments under way, and the TiVo Stop Watch ratings service is the best available source to measure their effectiveness with time-shifted viewers.”
The way ads are measured and paid for under Nielsen’s commercial ratings system creates something of a discount for Alltel. Advertisers pay based on average commercial ratings for the entire show, which means even though more people were watching its ad, Alltel pays for the same number of viewers as a marketer whose ad was more likely to drive viewers to use their remote control, Mr. Juenger said.
Another vignette campaign on USA, this one for Saab autos during the series “Burn Notice,” was the third-highest-rated commercial.
Also on the list was a spot for Ford on Lifetime’s “Army Wives,” a Dannon Activa spot during CBS’ “Swingtown,” a Verizon spot in “Burn Notice” and four spots from episodes of “So You Think You Can Dance.”
“Burn Notice” and TNT’s “The Closer” were the only cable shows among those drawing the highest ratings among time-shifters. The list was dominated by Fox, with several episodes of “So You Think You Can Dance” on top and a “Hell’s Kitchen” mixed in.
Many of the most-watched commercials overall appeared during the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, also on Fox. Spots for AT&T Wireless, Sony’s “Pineapple Express,” Gatorade, Dish Network, Cars.com and Burger King all were in the top 10, according to TiVo.
Mr. Juenger thought it was interesting that the game itself was not among the most-viewed shows of the month. Its commercials showed up on the list, however, “because most viewers chose to watch the All-Star Game live, as with many sporting events, so fast-forwarding is not an option,” he said.


  1. This won’t work for TiVo users who reprogram their remotes (select-play-select-3-0-select) to let the tab key skip OVER commercials rather than zip through them. It’s an undocumented feature of TiVo.

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