Category Archives: TiVo

TiVo fast-forwards the TV ratings industry


U.S. marketers spend about $70 billion annually on television advertising. What happens if the data guiding those investments was wrong?

TiVo, the little gadget that helps you record television programming, is poised to give Nielsen serious competition in how video audiences are measured — and perhaps to fill some gaps. Nielsen, as you know, compiles ratings for television programming that explain what percent — or share — of the 114 million TV sets in the United States are tuned to any program. Trouble is, Nielsen bases such ratings on a sample of 25,000 U.S. households. While Nielsen does process more than 2 million paper diaries in its four “sweeps” heavy observation periods, in general only 0.02% of the entire U.S. television audience is actually measured — and 99.9% is not.

TiVo will shake that up by releasing directly observed data on 375,000 households: second-by-second viewing from TiVo’s set-top boxes including whether you skip commercials, play shows back later, or pump content from Hulu or YouTube through your set. Critics have long pointed out that Nielsen’s panel-based measurement leads to errors. Panelists tend to overestimate their viewing of new programs they think they’d like; college students, in that sweet youth demo, have been underrepresented; viewing outside of the home, such as in bars, is not recorded; and thanks to the blunt scoring system, some shows with real audiences have been given 0.0 share. New data is coming, and the shifts may unnerve $70 billion in TV investments.

Image: Môsieur J.

Lap dances: Why Twitter won’t fit on your TV


One great irony of our time is that technology gurus expect gadgets to converge into single interfaces with more and more embedded functionality … and yet miss that achieving singularity could diminish the usability they’re supposed to be advocating. Or in more simple terms: You don’t want your campfire in your bed.

You see, humans have three basic fields of communication — a concept by Robert Sommer called “personal space.” Sommer wrote of this way back in 1969, along the lines that our evolutionary ancestors were trained to listen to stories from the campfire, hold tools in their hands, and share whispers of lovers in their ears. Stories, work, sex — the basics you needed to survive in clans in the wild. Sommer termed these fields “social,” “personal” and “intimate” spaces. If a large man tells another man a tale from 10 feet away, that’s cool; if he gets too close, it feels like a threat; if someone you are sexually attracted to gets very close, you may be in for a new relationship or deep trouble. Our bodies are conditioned to react to the physical distance tied to the incoming communication around us.

So fast forward to summer 2010. TiVo announced this week it would load Facebook and Twitter streams onto television sets. At first blush, this seems like a superb extension of social media — more personal, real-time news on the big screen. You can almost hear the tech geeks yell yee-haw! Alas, is this what people really want? Twitter is really analogous to whispers in your intimate space; Facebook is almost as close, yet slightly more distant, more suited for the work-style typing and photo uploading from a laptop screen. Television is the distant social field, an incoming bath of blue light that warms us like stories from hunters around the ancestral campfires.

Humans don’t want all of these things together. Don’t believe us? Then ask, why in a world where consumers rush to buy new electronic gadgets of only slightly more marginal utility has no company succeeded in the past 20 years in building a convergence device — where you can watch movies and TV, read the Internet and type at work projects, and text or call your closest friends intimately? Why does the Apple TV box suck in sales? Why did you forget that Apple makes a TV device? Because society rejects convergence if it jumbles up our communication fields.

There are very few open market niches, but when they yawn gaspingly open — think, the Internet refrigerator, people, no one is buying the damn thing — it’s usually a signal that the sum of two combined utility factors is less than the whole of its parts. Sometimes too close is not the right solution. If you don’t believe us, at your next office party with your spouse in attendance, ask if he or she minds if you let another attractive colleague sit on your lap.

Jay Leno’s DVR crisis

Jay Leno’s audience at NBC has fallen sharply in the past year since he moved to the 10 p.m. slot. While this would seem good news for his rivals, a few numbers should strike fear into other TV networks’ hearts:

– Leno is down 1.8 ratings points (that is, 1.8% of all U.S. television households have stopped watching Leno).
– DVR use in the same hour is up 1.4 ratings points.

Hmm. What those numbers mean is a population the size of Phoenix or Philadelphia has stopped watching NBC at night, and instead replaced it with Digital Video Recorders. David Poltrack, CBS’ chief research executive, told the AP that the DVR trend was “a little bit higher than we thought” — a result of the one-third of all U.S. homes with TiVo-style devices learning to catch up on shows they missed. Since Leno appears to be boring people, consumers are using the 10-11 p.m. window before bedtime to play back better stuff. Will they use DVRs to skip commercials, too?

Just wait until the web gets in the basement

DVR use hasn’t taken off yet; they’re more of a ticking bomb for advertisers sitting in consumers’ basements. Nielsen reported this spring that U.S. consumers still watch only 15 minutes of DVR-recorded television a day, vs. 5 hours and 9 minutes of the live thing. But Leno’s slide shows how fast consumers can change their behavior, and they soon will have even more temptation to avoid broadcast networks. TV manufacturers are beginning to sell flat-panel sets with internet access, and 48% of consumers report they would consider purchasing one in the next 12 months. When the web marries TV, a million alternatives to Jay Leno will be just a click away.

Image: Roo Reynolds

TiVo makes search simpler on TV


Why is it so hard to find stuff on TV? Parents still struggle to find that show on dinosaur bones while clicking over R-rated material on HBO with the kids watching in the family room.

TiVo announced at CES last week that it is improving television search functionality to mimic that on Google — now consumers can type in the first word of a show they wish to see, and all the corresponding options pop up. This simple move may accelerate consumer drift away from primetime programming, which peaked way back in 1983 when 105 million people watched the last episode of M.A.S.H.

TiVo and similar DVR devices are making advertisers nervous, because they allow consumers to record shows and fast-forward over commercials. This risk is compounded by the so-called convergence of internet with television, in which consumers could surf any video online and avoid all advertising from traditional broadcasters. “Convergence” has stalled for years, due to the conflicting standards and hassle of hooking up various boxes to your television, but it’s coming closer. Wired notes this month that “Sony, LG, Toshiba, Panasonic and Samsung all unveiled Net-connected TVs and enhancements enabling … the ability to access online videos seamlessly from Youtube, Netflix and Amazon, without requiring a peripheral device.” TV will never go away — humans like large-scale theater — but the ads on it soon may be avoided altogether.

TiVo pushes YouTube; advertisers tremble


TV advertisers, worried that audiences are avoiding them by skipping ads or moving online, may now have a heart attack. TiVo has announced it will begin streaming YouTube videos to its settop digital video recorders, giving consumers a new way to be entertained without watching ads.

About 1 in 4 U.S. homes now have TiVo-type devices that allow them to record shows and fast-forward through commercials. YouTube attracts 68 million viewers a month, who in May watched 3.8 billion videos. You do the math.

Photo: Esther G.

6 million TV viewers disappear. Blame the DVR.


Call it Must Not See TV.

The New York Times reports 6 million TV viewers have disappeared in the past year — not abducted by aliens, but simply no longer watching prime time television. This is incredible, representing 13.6% of the 44 million folks who watched prime time TV just one year ago.

The impact on the ad industry will not be pretty. While Nielsen notes that ratings for some shows have gone up — about half the people who watch “The Office” in the Los Angeles market do so with time-shifting on DVR devices, and such habits have actually added eyeballs to a few popular shows — these same viewers are likely skipping commercials. It doesn’t take long to figure out the fast-forward button on a TiVo.

The good news is that viewers are shifting video-viewing habits online. If you are not now testing emerging formats for online video advertising, rethink it. Your target consumers may be there in 2009.

(Photo: Angel R Ravelor)