TiVo Takes StopWatch to Commercials

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For years, technologists as well as consumer and privacy advocates have warned that media’s seeming headlong willingness to convert to digital formats might create a type of media surveillance society, wherein media programmers, advertisers, and other know everything consumers view or listen to all the time. If the notion seems far-fetched, consider the number of digital services and offerings which tantalize consumers with free or cut-rate digital content in exchange for demographic data and surrendering a bit of privacy so that they might be more accurately targeted by advertisers. Mainstream media counts on advertising dollars, and will go to great lengths to assure its advertisers they’re getting their money’s worth.

When digital video recorders first came on the market, advertisers cried foul, claiming that being able to skip and fast forward through commercials dramatically reduced the value of placing commercials in television programming. Even as advertisers started to ponder whether they could somehow strong-arm TiVo, other set-top box makers, and television service providers into disabling commercial skipping or even fast forwarding during commercials, set-top box makers and television service providers were trying to find upsides in the DVR revolution for advertisers and, naturally, convince them to continue spending considerable amounts of money on television advertising.

In that vein, DVR pioneer TiVo today announced a new ratings service for commercials, based on the company’s StopWatch capability, which will feature Top Commercial Rankings reports. The service will track TiVo users’ viewing behavior on a second-by-second basis, and keep track of how consumers watch live and time-shifted content. TiVo plans to release the reports every month, listing top-rated commercials in terms of total viewing. TiVo will also note the least fast-forwarded advertising campaigns and correlate top commercials with top-viewed programming.

“For many years, various sources have provided rankings of top programs. But nobody has ever provided the same type of information for commercials. And this is what marketers really care about—especially with the proliferation of DVRs,” said Todd Juenger, TiVis VP and General Manager for audience research and measurement. “We believe these monthly reports will be both fun and informative, and provide just a small taste of the type of insight into DVR viewing behavior, time-shifting, and specific commercial ratings available to subscribers of TiVo’s StopWatch service.”

TiVo’s rolled out its StopWatch service back in February, and it compiles viewing data from a daily aggregate of 20,000 randomly selected TiVo units in the United States, recording the second-by-second “clickstream” behavior of its users across 15 networks. TiVo says the data is fully anonymized and cannot be traced back to individual viewers—but, gosh, doesn’t knowing a TiVo can be recording everything you do make you feel comfy?

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