TiVo data confirms worst fears

TiVo has finally released data showing exactly how TV viewing behaviour is affected by the ability to save, pause, rewind and skip ads with the touch of a button, and as they say, there's good news and there's bad news.

TiVo has finally released data showing exactly how TV viewing behaviour is affected by the ability to save, pause, rewind and skip ads with the touch of a button, and as they say, there’s good news and there’s bad news.

The good news is that the San Jose, Calif.-based personal video recorder (PVR) service company is finally making regular second-by-second audience reports available – with viewing for both programming and ads – via a new quarterly called the ‘TiVo Commercial Viewing Report,’ developed in conjunction with Starcom MediaVest Group in the U.S.

The bad news, besides that fact that this kind of data isn’t yet available for Canada, is that the report confirms that the most desirable advertising time available – that which is embedded in prime-time appointment programming – is that most likely to be skipped.

These are only the first results, and the sample of about 700,000 viewers is still just a blip in the larger U.S. universe, but the numbers show that 77% of viewers who record prime-time shows for later viewing skip the expensive, high-profile ads the industry thrives on.

By contrast, time-sensitive programming such as news, sports, event programming and reality shows, tend to be watched live (after all, no one wants to be the only person around who doesn’t know who got voted off the island), and only 17% of viewers who watch live or near-live programming skipped commercials. Notably, a full 60% of TiVo use was for programming recording.

So, how concerned should the industry be that a high percentage of viewers skip the most expensive ad time on television, given the chance? Well, it depends.

Certainly that number should be mitigated by the fact that with 60% of TiVo use dedicated to recording, consumers are catching more of their favourite shows (and the ads that go with them) to begin with; it’s just that they’re not watching those shows when networks expect them to.

In fact, OMD Canada president Lorraine Hughes sees the impact of program storage as one of the more important findings of the early numbers. ‘I think programs that are being shifted or stored obviously have a high value for people. Otherwise they wouldn’t bother.’

The question, according to Hughes, is how will CPMs in the new paradigm be assessed? ‘What’s the new valuation going to be? Is there going to be a new valuation on real-time ratings versus stored ratings? How do you plan and report those? We’re going to have to start to define the currency in different ways.’

Hughes sees a potential distinction between real-time and stored ratings, with each serving different purposes. Real-time, or ‘best-before’ ratings, lose their value as weeks go on, so they might be less valuable to a retailer having a store-wide sale on the weekend, for example. ‘I see a future,’ says Hughes, ‘where I would want more real-time ratings, however we qualify those, than stored ratings.’

Ian MacLean, VP of the iTV Lab at Montreal-based Media Experts, can foresee a near future with parallel forms of measurement taking place, ‘the linear, live, push model – the current, legacy broadcast model – coexisting with an on-demand television stream.’

MacLean is confident, though, that the growth of TiVo and other PVR service companies such as Bell ExpressVu, won’t mean the death of live TV. ‘There will always be a 30-second commercial, and we’ll have to measure that live tuning. But we’re also going to have to develop accurate measurement for those people who are watching an increasing amount of programming on demand.’

A terrifying mountain

of data?

While the capacity for accurate second-by-second measurement might summon terrifying visions of marketers buried under mountains of data, PHD Canada’s SVP of planning and research, Rob Young, doesn’t see the business degenerating into a struggle to get in that specific cluster of ads where numbers suggest dog owners might be thinking about what to feed Fido.

‘I suspect the marketplace won’t be so much cluster by cluster,’ says Young, ‘but rather perhaps genre by genre. In other words, the sitcom genre might be relatively predictable with respect to the amount of commercial avoidance that takes place. So, if there is a commercial avoidance factor that ranges from 25% to 30% for sitcoms, for example, any program that is a sitcom might carry with it that kind of a factor against the audience number, and that would be applicable to the commercials.’

That’s not to say all that data won’t play a role. Take the recent Super Bowl numbers tracked by the second by TiVo as an example. ‘If I was Budweiser,’ says iTV’s MacLean, ‘I would be very happy to know that my commercial (‘Zebra’) was the fourth highest-viewed portion of the entire program. Or that Reebok’s Terry Tate commercial was number one. People went back to look at that portion of the four-hour Super Bowl broadcast more times than at any other point, including the game itself.’

Given that viewers might be ready to hit rewind when an ad grabs their fancy, Paul Maher, the Toronto-based CEO of Starcom MediaVest Group Canada, says TV advertisers would do well to think of the Internet model when they turn to the small screen.

‘Interestingly,’ observes Maher, ‘in one of the studies I saw, they were rebranding the viewer as the ‘viewser.’ Consumers are clearly using television in exactly that way – with complete control. We are increasingly learning that by building communication that specifically appeals to consumers’ passions and interests, you’re less likely to get skipping of commercials.’ Maher points to the success of BMW films as an example of creative mould-breaking.

But even in a world where, say, only 23% of the audience puts up their hands to hear an advertiser’s message, that’s still a one-in-four self-selection rate of consumers who want to hear an interesting, informative presentation. While it’s too early to tell what all the numbers might mean, the gauntlet has been thrown and it’s up to marketers to react in a meaningful way.