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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > articles >  The DVR: Sleeping With The Enemy


The DVR: Sleeping With The Enemy

Posted on July 30, 2002 and read 16,841 times

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Advertisers beware: DVRs are on the loose. They change channels. They record programs. They pause, they rewind – even fast forward live TV. Press a button ReplayTV calls ‘Quick Skip’, and breeze past 30 seconds of live TV. Soon watching commercials may be a matter of choice. It’s a couch potato’s dream come true. It’s an advertiser’s worst nightmare.

A digital video recorder or DVR for short, (a.k.a. personal video recorder, or PVR) is a little black box that sits above your television set. With the help of services like TiVo and ReplayTV, users can record their favourite shows with ease. It even searches out programs that fall into the viewers specified preferences. It’s like Google for your TV. All of it gets saved to a hard-drive that stores up to 30 hours of programming. Think of it as a VCR without a tape. A VCR on steroids.

Although DVRs haven’t flown off the shelves as fast as ‘Tickle Me Elmo’ did, their availability has the ad industry up in arms. According to Media Experts iTV Lab, an estimated 30, 000 Canadian homes are currently equipped with DVRs. So even though they aren’t in every home (yet), they’ve got advertisers fearing a time when watching commercials may become a thing of the past.

How worried should the advertising industry be?

Here’s some news that surely won’t surprise you: Most DVR owners skip ads. According to a U.S. based consultancy firm which surveyed approximately 1,000 DVR owners, 71% of them skipped through spots during network primetime. 65.3% breezed past spots on cable TV, and a whopping 93% skipped past ads for fast food, credit cards and network promos. On a more promising note, only 32.7% of viewers chose to skip spots for beer.

Attention art directors everywhere: We need a battle plan. We must defeat the evil DVR in its quest to destroy the TV spot as we know it. But how? Perhaps in-program ads are the answer. Certainly, we can’t make up for all lost air-time with product placement alone. Realistically, both tactics will overwhelm viewers with clutter and distract from the shows that make people watch TV in the first place. I suppose, if all else fails we can make skipping commercials an illegal offence.

Don’t roll your eyes just yet. Earlier this year Jamie Kellner, chairman of Turner Broadcasting Systems, told the Television Critics Association that viewers could face paying up to $250 a year (in addition to their monthly cable bill) for channels they now receive free if they choose to skip commercials.“[Skipping ads is] theft” he told CableWorld Magazine. “Your contract with the network when you get the show is that you’re going to watch the spots. Otherwise you couldn’t get the show on an ad-supported basis. Any time you skip a commercial … you’re actually stealing the programming.” Roll eyes now.

There is no denying that the advent of the DVR has the potential to revolutionize TV as we know it. But the real question is: will it be a positive change for the ad world, or will it eventually wipe us out? Should creatives start packing their bags?

Don’t quit your day job.

At least not yet. A report issued by TiVo showed that during the 2002 Super Bowl, TiVo owners chose to replay or pause portions of the broadcast an average of 44 times per household. Why is this relevant? Not only did they replay portions of the game, but viewers were replaying commercials as well. Pepsi’s 90 second spot featuring Britney Spears came in first with the most viewer playbacks. Pepsi’s 30 second version came in second, followed by ads for Cadillac CTS, Bud Light, and the movie trailer for Collateral Damage.

Mark Sherman, President of Media Experts iTV Lab won’t deny that a large percentage of commercials during a time-shifted program probably do get skipped. But, more importantly, he says, we must “take into account that a time-shifted program is a program that wouldn’t have otherwise been seen.” So if you “weren’t home…to watch The West Wing, you would have missed all the commercials during The West Wing.” But if you save it, watch it later, and still skip half the commercials, Sherman explains, “my focus as an ad guy, isn’t on the half that you skip, it’s on the half that were seen.”

“The type of people who time-shift programming”, says Sherman, “are lighter television viewers who are very busy. Lighter TV viewers possess the most attractive demographic to advertisers. Those are the people we want to reach. [They] are hard to reach… simply because they watch less [TV].” According to Sherman’s philosophy, the PVR gives them the ability to watch their favorite shows when they want to. “I’m focused on the commercials they do watch. I see the PVR as something that opens up a whole a whole new world… that offers us the ability to really turbo charge television and make it a more powerful media.”

As the saying goes ‘keep your friends close and your enemies closer,’ and it may be the smartest move we could make. A few brands are already working with TiVo including, NBC Television, the PGA of America, Real Networks, New Line Cinema and Sony Pictures.

“TiVo is committed to working closely with innovative advertisers as we employ our smart technology to develop a powerful new dialogue between advertisers and interested consumers.” said TiVo’s chief programming officer, Stacy Jolna in a statement.

TiVo recently partnered with Best Buy. Instead of a standard 30 second ad, the spot gave viewers the option to pause and see rehearsal footage of their spokesperson, Sheryl Crow, performing, along with information about Best Buy’s products. The ads were a success. The showcase managed to reel in nearly half of TiVo’s 500,000 subscribers. Preliminary results indictated that viewers spent an average of six minutes with the ad. Six minutes! Most advertisers struggle to keep the viewers captive for a mere 30 seconds.

From an advertising perspective, the DVR just might be a blessing in disguise. It’s the ultimate market research tool. Now, viewing habits are traceable and collectable. Advertisers will know what you watch and how often you watch it. They’ll know when you change the channel. They’ll know what you change it to. Access to such detailed information will provide advertisers with enough information to target their commercials more carefully, and deliver specific ads to a specific demographic.

Therein lies the solution. By joining forces with our greatest nemesis, ambitious advertisers everywhere can benefit from the inevitable changes bound to occur once DVRs become as mainstream as VCRs. The future of advertising, then, is hardly in jeopardy. In fact, just the opposite is true. What initially seemed like the end, now looks like a bright new beginning. Essentially, the DVR has raised the bar. It will challenge advertisers to find new ways to attract audiences. We’ll see bigger and better spots. More interactive ads. Ads that are more targeted. By sleeping with the enemy, we won’t have to say good-bye to all commercials. Just bad commercials.


Pamela Fogul
Content Editor
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