TiVo Saves Commercials

Last week, TiVo unveiled plans for a product that allows subscribers to search for specifically targeted commercials placed on their DVRs. TiVo has offered long-form commercials for years, but the new service will enable viewers to actively search for ads for a specific product, without any of those pesky programs getting in the way. The service—a partnership with ad agencies including Interpublic Media, Starcom Mediavest Group and The Richards Group—begins in the spring with national spots. Later in the year, with the help of Comcast Spotlight, the service will include local spots. Davina Kent, TiVo VP, national advertising sales, discussed the venture with B&C’s Ken Kerschbaumer.

How does this new ad-search function work?

A user sets up a search criteria based on what they’re in the market for—say, a hybrid SUV. We’ll send any content provided by hybrid SUV advertisers to the “Now Playing” list, and the user, when they go into that area, can watch whatever information for products or services they’re in the market for.

Where does the viewer go to make the initial selections?

It’s done through the TiVo, similar to our other search criteria, but we’ll have a product and services category. They can subscribe to as many as they want and still control how much disk space they want to allocate.

What will this mean for advertisers?

It means a real targeted market and a user that has said, “I’m actually interested in this product.” That is highly valuable for the advertiser.

This opens up an opportunity for niche advertisers to get into TV. Will any interesting categories pop up?

We’ve had a lot of good feedback from consumer packaged goods; there are a lot of things their advertisers can do around recipes, programming and vignettes. There’s also an opportunity around special offers because we have all the capabilities to request more information.

Have you figured out the rates?

We’re looking at different factors, such as how long the viewer is engaged with the content and brand. And then there is how many people requested more information and how many people, in general, simply viewed it. So we’re working with our advertising partners to figure out what the right pricing model is.

TiVo is held up as the poster child of ad-skipping. Does this solve those concerns?

People do watch ads that are delivered to them. They want to be in control, watch it on their own time and have it be relevant. So these opportunities put a big challenge on the advertiser to find out what entices a user to actually interact with the brand, rather than the traditional 30-second framework, where they try to grab the viewer’s attention. I think advertising is not going away, but it’s evolving.

Is this the end of 15- or 30-second spots?

We do have longer ads, but they can do both because we’ve found that 15-, 30- and 60-second ads work. Consumers still have a short attention span, and if you can get your message across, then that would work. But having an opportunity where you’re not limited by length allows advertisers to be more creative.

If advertisers embrace this method, does that make Nielsen less valuable?

I think that’s happening whether TiVo offers an advertising product or not. Advertisers are already putting pressure on Nielsen and the networks with respect to program ratings and whether it’s a viable currency. We won’t be charging by that because it’s all measurable and advertisers can determine ROI.

Will it be possible for a network like CNN to call you up and ask that the commercials already on the TiVo be dynamically inserted into their programming stream?

Our relationships are very love/hate with the networks, but we’re open to working with anyone. The technology allows for that, but it’s a question of the business relationship and figuring out how they should play in this space.