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Defeating the DVR to Promote Shows

Mar 8, 2009  •  Post A Comment

Fox’s on-air promotions team has quietly opened a new front in TV’s ongoing war against digital video recorders.
With little fanfare, the network in recent weeks has started sprinkling its commercial breaks with what it’s calling “TiVo-busters”—spots designed to be effective even when viewers use a DVR to fast-forward through advertising.
In addition, the network has been using the commercial breaks during “American Idol” to test out its commercial “podbusters,” original content interspersed throughout sponsorship breaks that’s designed to get viewers to pay attention to advertising. It’s the latest iteration of the podbusting strategy Fox has employed in other shows.

Podbusters aren’t new: Networks from NBC to BBC America have tested them. Their use on TV’s most-watched show, however, could take the concept to a new level.
As for the TiVo-buster promotions, the first campaign is a 10-second tune-in spot for new drama “Lie to Me” that plays with graphics and motion in a bid to make an impression on viewers no matter how they watch TV.
A viewer watching Fox in real time would see “Lie” lead Tim Roth leaning in toward the camera in slow motion. There’s intense music and audio of Mr. Roth saying, “I know when you’re lying.”
Those viewers who scan past the ad while holding down the fast-forward button on their DVRs obviously won’t hear the audio. But the spot’s key elements—a single shot of Mr. Roth and a large graphical representation of the show’s logo that stays on-screen throughout—were designed so they’re noticeable even when viewed during a fast-forward sprint.
“No matter what speed you’re watching it, you get motion and you get copy,” said Joe Earley, Fox’s executive VP in charge of marketing. “The point of the creative is not to stop you [from fast-forwarding]. It’s to convey the tune-in message and the show information no matter what mode you’re in.”
Mr. Earley said designing so-called “TiVo-buster” promos is challenging, since DVRs don’t all move at the same speed. The fast-forward function on DirecTV’s recorder might move more quickly than a Time Warner Cable DVR or the TiVo-brand machine.
In the case of “Lie to Me,” Fox found footage from the show that lent itself to the slow, single-shot format needed to work at any speed.
Other TiVo-busting promos are under consideration. But because these types of ads don’t allow for as much creativity as regular spots, Mr. Earley said he didn’t expect the network to make frequent use of the concept.
“We would only do it when it works,” he said. “This is not something you can do on every show or every day, nor would we want to.”
Mr. Earley has more ambitious plans for commercial-break podbusters, both during “Idol” and in other shows.
The first “Idol” podbusters began showing up in late February, when host Ryan Seacrest urged viewers to stay tuned during an upcoming break for exclusive footage from the show’s audition rounds. About midway through the break, Fox showed viewers exactly that.
Unlike the TiVo-buster promotions, the podbusters are designed to get viewers to stop fast-forwarding during a commercial break, or keep them from pressing the fast-forward button at all.
“We’re doing a lot of things to make our air as interesting as possible,” Mr. Earley said. “We want viewers to be entertained not only by the (series) content, but by the promos and these other experiments we’re doing to give them show-related content during breaks. The hope is that you don’t need to check out what’s on another channel or hit fast-forward because you’re always being entertained.”
In the case of the “Idol” podbusters, Fox took promotional time normally used to hype another series on the network to instead give viewers “more content from the show they already like,” Mr. Earley explained. Eventually, he said, the network hopes audiences will pick up on the fact that Fox has made the entire viewing experience—not just individual series—more enjoyable.
Mr. Earley’s team is currently in the planning stages on podbusters featuring original content from “Bones,” “Hell’s Kitchen” and at least one more show. For now, Madison Avenue isn’t involved in these experimental podbusters, though Mr. Earley wouldn’t mind if that changed.
“We would love to eventually find a partner who would want to sponsor this content,” he said, cautioning that any such deals would be struck by Fox’s sales division and not marketing.
Another way Fox is trying to make its promos feel more like original content is by launching a new series of image spots featuring the network’s stars in more relaxed moments.
“Entertaining you is our business. How we do it is the fun part,” a graphic message during one ad reads. “So Real. So Fun. So Fox.”
Fox’s promotions team worked closely with the network’s public relations team to identify moments during photo shoots and breaks from filming that showed off actors’ softer side. A spot for “Bones,” for example, features Emily Deschanel dazed and confused after an intense kiss from co-star David Boreanaz.
The goal is to bring viewers behind the scenes on Fox shows, giving audiences a peek into the lives of the people involved in the making of their favorite programs.
“We want to be more accessible to our viewers,” Mr. Earley said. “We’re the network for younger viewers. We want to be real.”

50 Comments

  1. Fast-forward on a DVR is yesterday’s technology. The new way is to advance 30 seconds at time with a single click, then an 8-second back-up when you overshoot. Save 16 minutes an hour or more this way.

  2. New way? The “secret” TiVo leap-over has been around for years. You can reprogram the little tab to end button by pressing this sequence: select-play-select-3-0-select
    After toggling that sequence on (or off) you get a button that jumps 30-seconds over unwanted material, regardless of how creatively it’s produced.

  3. i absolutely hate Fox’s “So Real. So Fun. So Fox.” network branding promo.
    So freaking tacky even the CW wouldn’t touch it. It doesn’t encourage me to watch their ad at all, in fact, whenever the “So Fox” promo came up, I either change channel if I’m watching live, or fast-forward on DVR.
    I’m a commercial lover, if the ad is fun and creative, I’ll watch it, otherwise, i skip the irritating ones.

  4. All users with fast forward capabilities also have a wide choice of channels from which to choose. I will not watch commercials, so I will switch to a different channel if I can’t avoid them. FOX better be careful or it will outsmart itself right out of viewers.

  5. So this guy reckons he’s come up with an amazing, brand new idea? What did he do during the other 23 hours, 59 minutes of the day? Pick the color of his new minivan?
    If I ever have the misfortune to witness a break, I know that Fox is utter guano anyway, so the assumption is that anything Fox advertises is also a heap of steaming detritus.

  6. We get too many commercials now. Some of the cable channels have 10-15 different commercials in the “breaks”. This is ridiculous. If it wasn’t for the skip function on my DVR I’d forget what I was watching. In a 1 hour show you only get about 30-40 minutes of actual program. The best shows back in the 60s often had only 1 or 2 sponsors – and the networks still made a profit – what’s wrong now that they have to have to have 15 different advertisers for the same show. They also ruin movies because they edit out good parts to leave room for more commercials.

  7. It seems to me that after going to the expense of purchasing a DVR, plus sitting through the live commercials 20 – 30 times, I shouldn’t have to sit through it while viewing a program on the DVR.

  8. To Bob_E: You are correct. I am still unfortunately using old tech (a VCR) to FF through the breaks. I never watch anything ‘live’. A 60-minute show these days has at most 42,or more likely 40, minutes of actual content, plus title and end credits. In 1978 commercial time limits were deregulated and that opened the floodgates. Everybody thinks, ‘oh, it is only another 15 or 30 seconds.’ Yeah, well, we’ve now slid down that slippery slope and are wallowing in the river of commercials and promos.
    I recently watched via Netflix’ Watch Instantly function the Harry Mudd episode from the original Star Trek. The length, including all credits, was 50 minutes. Of course, it aired in 1966. We all know that tv in and of itself isn’t free. But the broadcasters and producers seem to think that we will sit through 20 minutes of ads; well, not me. Go back to 10 minutes of ads/promos in an hour and I won’t be so trigger-happy with my FF button and I might even sit through a show when it’s broadcast.

  9. i pay absolutely zero attention to most commercials because most of them insult my intelligence and grate on my last nerve. there are a few that are worth viewing – the free credit report ads, btw, are not among them. i flip; i mute; i take a potty-break. i never buy or use products or services whose commercials annoy me – never. and i don’t use a DVR. i tape certain shows and fast forward through the offensive crap. it still works for me.
    that said, what fox and mr. earley are doing is pitiful – and abusive. it will bite them in their collective fannies at some point in time, and i will gladly sit and watch.

  10. I pay for satellite service to watch TV; pay for each receiver; pay for Tivo receiver and Tivo service, etc. I don’t pay to watch the commercials. I cut out at least 20 min. of a one hour program by skipping the commercials. I don’t watch the commercials and don’t want to watch them.

  11. I recommend poeple not watching Fox anymore. We will see how fasr advertiser not advertise anymore. Maybe they even replace the poeple at the top who recommended it.

  12. This doesn’t work for people like me who are fast-forwarding though the boring parts of American Idol itself.

  13. If you’re still on the fence: grab your favorite earphones, head down to a Best Buy and ask to plug them into a Zune then an iPod and see which one sounds better to you, and which interface makes you smile more. Then you’ll know which is right for you.

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