Timing Promos With 'TiVo StopWatch’

My first real understanding of how digital video recorders would change our business came when my son was 5 years old. He had grown up in a TiVo household and only knew television through the DVR.

One day he was visiting his aunt and watching “live” TV. He got up to go to the kitchen and asked my sister to “pause the TV.” She told him that her TV did not pause. He was incredulous. When he got home he told me about the experience and said, “Dad, you wouldn’t buy a car without brakes. Why would you buy a TV that doesn’t pause?”

We know that DVRs change the way people watch television. They watch more and different programs. We know it changes the way they watch breaks. They watch fewer, faster. As a promo person that obviously concerns me.

When you look at “break architecture” — how channels optimize their breaks for maximum audience retention — it is crucial to get as granular as possible.

But that’s a problem, because unlike programmers who deal in content that’s measured in minutes, promo people and advertisers deals in content — promos and commercials — that is measured in seconds. With minute-by-minute ratings, how do you know if a 20-second promo that’s buried between a pair of 15-second commercials and a 10-second billboard with a bit of overlapping content was successful or not? And in a DVR world, what kind of promos are people fast-forwarding through? Or, if they are watching three days out, are they seeing an episodic spot for a show that has already aired?

Besides changing the way people watch television, TiVo has also begun to change how we measure that behavior with TiVo “StopWatch.” StopWatch connects second-by-second viewing behavior with commercial and promo occurrence data, offering Program Ratings, Spot Ratings and Commercial Retention for both Live Viewing and Time-Shifted Viewing.

In other words, for the first time we’re able to see if promos actually perform. Do viewers stick or click?

TiVo StopWatch provided an analysis of the four full-time commercial broadcast networks, ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, and the top 10 cable networks in primetime, Bravo, Fox News Channel, Food Network, FX, HGTV, Nickelodeon, Syfy, TBS, TNT and USA Network, based on total ratings in February 2009.

Here’s what we learned. Time-shifted promos perform 15% better than commercials. Among 100,000 TiVo subscribers, when watching broadcast television in a time-shifted mode, they watch 43% of the promos, but only 36% of the commercials. Cable fares even better. Time-shifting viewers watch nearly 59% of promos on cable networks, compared with 50% of the commercials.

Now, if you put those well-performing promos in the “A” position of a pod, you super-charge their effectiveness. Promos in the first pod position deliver a dramatically higher time-shifted commercial viewing index than ads. Time-shifted viewers watch nearly 74% of “A” position promos, compared with only 50% of “A” position commercials. That’s a 33% difference.

So what were the highest-rated promos in February 2009? The most watched time-shifted broadcast promos were:

  1. NBC, The Office
  2. CBS, Late Show With David Letterman
  3. NBC, NBC.com
  4. ABC, Jimmy Kimmel Live
  5. CBS, Jesse Stone on Thin Ice
  6. Fox, King of the Hill
  7. NBC, Knight Rider
  8. ABC , Scrubs
  9. CBS, Rules of Engagement
  10. CBS, 48 Hours

The top 10 time-shifted cable promos were:

  1. Nickelodeon, Sponge Bob Square Pants
  2. Nick at Nite, Home Improvement/George Lopez
  3. FX, Walk the Line (movie); Nip/ Tuck
  4. Nickelodeon, iCarly
  5. Nick at Nite, George Lopez
  6. Food Network, Throwdown With Bobby Flay
  7. Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite, Hunt Contest
  8. Fox News Channel, Huckabee
  9. Nickelodeon, True Jackson
  10. TV Land, High School Reunion

So what are we to make of this? Are these the kinds of spots that win awards? Doubtful. But these are the spots that make a difference in engaging and delivering audiences. They’re the workhorses of the network-promotion industry.

Lee Hunt