Skip to comments.Got a TiVo? "Digital Video Recorders Give Advertisers Pause"
Posted on 05/23/2002 3:59:46 AM PDT by The Raven
igital successors to the VCR that eliminate the frustration of recording television programs have crossed a popularity threshold, raising alarm among advertisers and TV executives who see the devices as a threat to the economics of commercial television.
Digital video recorders, or DVR's, make it so easy to program and play back shows they do away with videotapes by storing 30 hours or more on a hard disk that their owners often choose to watch what is on the machine rather than what is on TV. Ignoring the networks' painstakingly planned schedules, they watch prime-time programs late at night and late-night programs before dinner, often oblivious to the channel on which it originally appeared.
They also see fewer than half the commercials they used to, compressing hourlong shows into 40 minutes as they fast-forward through the advertisements that the television industry has long depended on to pay for its programming and profits.
One in five people who own a DVR like TiVo or ReplayTV say they never watch any commercials, according to a recent survey from Memphis-based NextResearch.
Numbers like that have provoked gloomy pronouncements from industry executives. Some even come close to accusing habitual ad skippers of theft.
"The free television that we've all enjoyed for so many years is based on us watching these commercials," said Jamie C. Kellner, chief executive of Turner Broadcasting. "There's no Santa Claus. If you don't watch the commercials, someone's going to have to pay for television and it's going to be you."
But such admonishments appear unlikely to sway DVR owners. By recording the shows they know they want to see, many say they have escaped the scourge of channel-surfing and the empty sense of wasted time so often associated with watching TV. Although sales of DVR's are still small compared with those of other home entertainment devices like DVD players, analysts say the remarkable enthusiasm they inspire makes their broad adoption only a matter of time.
"I can do e-mail and I can go on the Internet but I've never been able to program the VCR," said Kay Friedman, 66, of Morton Grove, Ill., a TiVo owner who takes special delight in waiting until 9:20 to watch "The Practice" on Sundays so she can skip through the commercials even as it records. "I'm hooked."
Dismissed until recently as too expensive and complex for the average consumer to set up, DVR's are now a fixture in more than a million United States households about 1 percent of the total a number expected to grow to 50 million over the next five years, according to Forrester Research. Fueling the growth are cable and satellite companies, who plan to build DVR features into their set-top boxes, greatly simplifying the set-up process. Cox Communications, Time Warner and Charter Communications have already announced plans to make these services available to consumers later this year.
TiVo, which markets its own DVR and licenses its service to others, costs $300 to $400, plus a $12.95 monthly fee. Sonicblue's ReplayTV 4000 costs $699 for 40 hours up to $1,999 for 320 hours of storage; the company said it expected sales to increase when it introduces a lower-priced machine later this year.
The television industry has known about DVR's for years, of course. But as the popularity of the digital technology begins to undermine many of the basic assumptions that have governed the television business for decades, broadcasters, cable programmers and advertisers are scrambling both to resist and to adapt to people who can rearrange schedules and skip commercials at the press of a button.
"You start losing marginal dollars when people who you thought you were buying are not viewing," said Daniel Jaffe, executive vice president of the Association of National Advertisers. "This is not just a theoretical problem that might be happening somewhere down the line. This is happening now."
Some advertisers are re-evaluating their buying strategies and demanding new ways of measuring audiences. Steve Sternberg, director of audience analysis for the advertising firm Magna Global USA, circulated a memo recently that asked, "If an advertiser buys `NYPD Blue' on Tuesday night, and 10 percent of its audience watches it on Friday after midnight, should that audience be given equal value as the `live' prime- time audience?"
There is an important distinction, Mr. Sternberg said, between "zipping and zapping": "When people switch channels, they are going from something to something else. There are losses for one channel, but gains for another. With fast-forwarding there are only losses."
Others are trying to turn the technology to their advantage. Coca-Cola has paid for advertising that appears on the screen of a ReplayTV user when a viewer pauses a program for more than a few minutes. Last week, Best Buy announced that it would embed electronic tags visible only to TiVo users in 30-second commercials featuring the singer Sheryl Crow it is running on MTV. Viewers can click on an icon to see 12 additional minutes of the Best Buy "advertainment," while TiVo records the continuing MTV programming so they can watch it later.
"We need to start to understand how we're going to have to reach our consumers with this new technology," said Mollie Weston, a product manager for Best Buy's image advertising. "It is going to force us to put advertisements out there that people are actually going to choose to watch."
Indeed, advertisers take heart in data from TiVo that showed its viewers fast-forwarding through this year's Super Bowl and using the instant replay function for the Britney Spears Pepsi commercial more than any other segment besides the winning field goal.
Because DVR's are connected by a phone or high-speed Internet line from a viewer's home to a central server to get program schedules, some advertisers envision downloading commercials aimed at individual people based on information from databases compiled through other sources. Members of Purina pet clubs might get pet food commercials, for instance, while the owner of a BMW lease that is about to expire might get an advertisement on the automaker's new convertible.
"There's a lot of things that are going to start to change," said Ira Sussman, director of research for Initiative Media North America, an advertising buyer whose clients include Maybelline and Home Depot. "We're going to have to start thinking more about the importance of product placement within programs, placing more relevant, highly targeted messages. But we see it as a glass half full."
His research reflected a less rosy picture for the television networks, however. "We've found people recording programs and watching them on their own time are often not realizing what network they're coming from anymore," Mr. Sussman said. "That's a real brand equity that might be lost on the networks' part, if you're trying to put something next to `Friends' but no one's watching `Friends' live."
Much of the television industry's response to the new technology so far has focused on a lawsuit that seeks to ban the sale of the newest version of ReplayTV, which allows its customers to set it up to skip commercials on playback automatically, without even requiring them to fast-forward. The machine also allows its owners to send shows to each other over the Internet.
A group of media companies including Viacom Inc., the NBC television network, the Walt Disney Company, AOL Time Warner Inc. and Twentieth Century Fox has asked a federal court in Los Angeles to stop Sonicblue from selling the device, saying it contributes to copyright infringement. To win, they need to prove that the machine is fundamentally different from the VCR, whose distribution was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1984 after a similar challenge by the entertainment industry.
Lawyers for the companies now argue that the court's endorsement of consumers' right to "time shift" television programming in the 1984 case was based on the assumption that copyright holders would not suffer significant financial damage as a result. Over the protests of privacy advocates, they are demanding detailed information about which shows ReplayTV owners record and which commercials they skip.
Sonicblue's chief executive, Ken Potashner, concedes that on average ReplayTV users skip more than half the commercials. But he says it is up to the networks and advertisers to come up with creative ways to persuade viewers to watch. The ReplayTV machine records all the commercials, and users must choose to set it to skip them automatically on playback. They can always reset it if they choose.
"What are they going to attack next, the mute button?" Mr. Potashner said. "We've provided an efficiency improvement for a consumer who is compelled to skip a commercial. What they should do is work with us."
A victory in the companies' case against Sonicblue will not stave off the fundamental shift in culture undermining their business, industry analysts say. Consumers have embraced digital technology that allows them the greatest flexibility in the way they shop, communicate and consume all kinds of media and it is not likely to be different in TV.
"We've trained people that you can buy things at 3 in the morning in the nude on the Internet and make a call to anyone from anywhere on a cellphone, and the idea that CBS is going to determine when I watch `CSI' flies in the face of that trend," said Josh Bernoff, an analyst with Forrester Research. "TV networks are going to have to figure out how to make money from a TV viewer that is not nailed to the chair waiting for the commercial to end."
If it is good enough, even dedicated DVR owners can still be tempted to watch live television, complete with its inconvenient interludes. Chad Little, a ReplayTV owner who started a Web site called Planetreplay.com, where viewers can trade with each other, regularly records about 10 shows, including "Junkyard Wars," and "Everybody Loves Raymond." Sometimes he makes an exception:
"Buffy," Mr. Little said, referring to the vampire slayer. "There's times I'll watch it straight through with commercials and everything."
An odd remark coming from someone affiliated with Ted Turner.
I've also watched very few commercials since I got my Tivo. That's had an unexpected effect. Commercials are a significant part of our culture these days, and sometimes I feel out of it when I hear my friends talking about commercials that I've never seen.
However, I'll live with that kind of "out of it" feeling.
The cost of those commercials do factor into the cost of products though.
Technically speaking, isn't it true that the TiVo pricture quality is a lot lower than that of the original broadcast?
Someone puts schedules on the internet in the proper format, etc., and we're all done. I figure I'll move to it in about a year.
A lot of people think they want that before they try the service.
However, it's the service that makes Tivo so great. Without the Tivo guide and related information, a Tivo wouldn't be nearly as valuable.
Rights are, by nature, independent of "financial damage" suffered by third parties. If the "financial damage" is the result of violating someone's property rights, that is wrong in itself. If the "financial damage" is simply lost revenue because people aren't buying what you're selling, tough toenails.
Do your 'friends' feel out-of-it when you talk about the Constitution? They should.
Isn't this thing illegal under the new copyright abomination?They can pass laws against rain on holidays too.....
Thanks for the info. It sounds just like what I want.
In that case, I'd suggest you buy a Tivo. Getting good A/V results from a PC isn't for a computer illiterate. I'm using a Home Theater PC to drive a video projector and surround sound, am very computer literate, and it just isn't that easy to get this stuff all working right.
If you really want to go down that path, there are people who sell pre-configured HTPC's, but a Tivo would be much cheaper just to get the PVR functionality.
Mine is an older model, but the one currently out now hold about 30 hours of programming. However they are due to release a new one any day now that holds (gulp!) ... 72 hours of programming!! Oh happy day!
Watching a big game and need to use the restroom? Just hit pause, then "unpause" when you get back. Missed some dialogue because the kids were screaming? Just hit rewind and see it again. Remember I'm talking real time and live TV, not just what you've already recorded.
Also it's all digital. The recording quality is exactly as good as when you first watched it from the source ..... forever.
The ones that are designed for cable are OK, but IMO you're missing the boat if you're not using them with a 32 bit digital satellite signal. With a digital satellite signal there will NEVER be any snow, interference or static ever. You either get it or you don't.
Some cable companies are now hawking a "digital" signal. What they don't tell you is that it's a 16 bit signal as opposed a 32 bit signal from satellite. Like your video card, 16 bit allows several thousand colors, while 32 bit allows several million.
That book--published in 1979 when the home VCR began its rapid rise to ascendency--said that with VCR's and newer home video playback technologies it would completely overturn the whole idea of television programming by the broadcasters. And indeed it has happened; David Letterman's rise in popularity was possible because Neilsen Research found out his old NBC late-night show was one of the most-recorded shows on VCR, so people could watch in the morning after getting a good night's sleep. Today, VCR's have become so inexpensive that many households have more than one of them, which means you can do things like record two programs at one time and watch a third all at the same time.
DVR's are an extension of the VCR idea, only that programming the recorder is much more sophisticated and you can skip through the program (and the commercials) even faster. And unlike VCR's, DVR's usually have consistently good picture quality.
The New York Times article is just pointing out that television network executives still have not figured out the impact of home video recording and how it has completely changed viewing habits in many households.
You sound like a perfect candidate for a satellite dish. Why haven't you got one?
With more computing power, it could do on-the-fly CGI to (for example) make Billzebubba's nose grow as he talks.
"Brad, darling, please pass me the Parkay Margarine that is 100% free in fatty turboacids."
"Brad, darling, please pass me the Parkay Margarine that is 100% free in fatty turboacids."
If skipping the commercials is theft, promising us entertainment in exchange for watching them is fraud.
I bought a 30 hour Tivo and added another drive to give me about 120 hours of time. But you can determine the quality of the recording. My 120 hours is for lowest quality, I only have about 40 hours of best quality, but that is definately enough for me.
Tivo puts you in control of what you watch.
You can digitally fast forward a whole show and see what you think. You get a whole new perspective on how shows are put together.
And if you like how to shows, you can save them and re-run at will. Yes you can use tape, but it is not indexed, and has no name/description while in the recorder. The indexing alone makes them worth the money. The time shifting and ease of finding what you recorded makes it a slam dunk. Pausing and re-winding live TV is really useful.
And best of all it pus you back in charge of what you watch when.
I now have 4 DTV-Tivos. Bet Rush has 55. I paid $100 each.
It's incomparably better. For one thing, the TiVo lets you watch one show while recording another; you can even record two shows at the same time while watching one from the hard drive. So it's really more like two or three VCRs, not just one. But it also lets you pause, rewind and fast-forward a show while recording that very same show, something VCRs can't do no matter how many of them you have.
Here, for example, is how I watch football (which is the only Big Four network programming I watch). I have NFL Sunday Ticket, so I get about 13 games to choose from. I'll pick the two most promising ones and tune the TiVo to them. Whenever a commercial break comes up on one of them, I hit pause and flip to the other game. When that game hits a break, I pause it and flip back to the first. I never see any commercials, and I never have to sit through the sports droids' chatter during injury time-outs and official review. Plus, I have my own instant replay, so I can rewind to see great plays that the broadcast crew doesn't consider interesting.
They can have my TiVo when they pry it from my cold, dead fingers. If they think it's stealing, then they can do what NFL and HBO do and charge me a subscription. But they're not going to do that, of course, because then they'd find out just how many people don't watch their sludge.
Yeah, that reminds me of another trick: Turn on closed-captioning and go into the first fast-forward mode. You watch the show 2-3x faster, but the subtitles still appear, barely slow enough to read. I love watching documentaries that wayit feels sorta like the brain-dump machine from The Matrix. :-)