TiVo presents: a (targeted) word from our sponsor?

This afternoon, I wrote a story for the SG Newswire about TiVo offering a "feature" where subscribers can search for specific commercials:

No, it’s not opposite day, and yes, you read that correctly. Someone at
TiVo thinks that consumers really love commercials so much, they want
to be able to search through their recorded content just to find them.

[TiVo] on Monday said it is working on technology that lets viewers search for specific advertisements.

The technology, which is expected to launch in early 2006, is the
latest sign of the advertising industry’s efforts to reach consumers
who are taking advantage of high-tech products to escape the
traditional ad pitch.

[. . .]

The advertising service will let subscribers search for a product by
category or keyword, then TiVo would deliver matching commercials to
the consumer’s set-top box.

I snarkily (snarkily? Is that a word? minus ten points, Wheaton) concluded that this is a totally lame feature that nobody would ever want to use:

Soooo . . .  TiVo users complain by the tens of thousands that they want to be able to skip commercials, and TiVo gives them the ability to search for specific commercials?! Uh, okay.

TiVo must have done some market research for this feature, which leads
me to wonder, who are the idiots claiming to be technology enthusiasts
that TiVo talked to?

But now that it’s hours later, and I’ve had time to reconsider my snark . . . maybe I can be one of those idiots. I had this idea: what if TiVo subscribers were able to set up some sort of "profile" where they would check off a range of interests, as well as a range of things they are positively not interested in, and advertisers could target ads to the individual subscribers? It sort of longtails advertising, right? For example, I hate car commercials and beer commercials. But I’m interested in outdoor activities, so I respond to ads from places like REI. I am not interested in the latest Tom Cruise crap-o-rama, but I really enjoy the acting styles of Mr. Johnny Depp. I know it’s a long shot, and I know that the service as described (if I understand it correctly) is "client" side rather than "server" side, but wouldn’t it make more sense for advertisers to serve ads to people who were more likely to use the products or services they’re advertising?

I imagine that advertisers would still want to use commercials to inform consumers about new products, or new films, or whatever, and maybe there could be some auto-subscribed advertising channel which would serve anything, regardless of a subscriber’s preferences. But at the end of that commercial, the subscriber could "Thumbs Up" or "Thumbs Down" the product or service, and TiVo could adjust ads served to that subscriber accordingly.

This could even open up advertising to smaller companies who can’t afford to buy prime time slots that reach the entire country, but may be able to afford 50,000 buys for targeted audience members. I imagine that they’d get a better conversion on their ad sales.

There are obvious problems: privacy is the most glaring, but there are also several different demographics living in each house, so something would have to be done to adjust to the primary viewer of, say, CSI and the primary viewer of, say, Desperate Housewives, and the primary viewer of SpongeBob Squarepants.

I know that there are smarter people than me who read my blog. So what do you think? Shoot this full of holes and we’ll see if there’s anything left.

36 thoughts on “TiVo presents: a (targeted) word from our sponsor?”

  1. Well, you’re certainly entitled to believe that it is “the Devil,” but that’s not particularly constructive in this context, is it?
    Assume for the purposes of this discussion that advertising is not going away: would you rather see ads for things you’re interested in, or the current crop of bullshit?
    Oh, and if I had my way, I’d force the networks to run ads at the same volume as the programming. There is nothing I hate more than an act ending quietly and dramatically, only to have the screen go to black and explode with some bullshit about Nissan’s Weekend Sales Event!!11

  2. I have to agree with Wil on this. I do despise commercials as much as the next viewer. But I am more inclined to watch ads pertaining to my interests. Be it some horror/sci-fi/fantasy movie trailer/preview or an ad about a band’s album that just recently dropped. Those are just some general examples mind you.
    I’d rather not have to see through another car or beer ad. Oh but my pet peeve lies in those commercials for attorneys and their trusty ’1-800- blah blah yada’ hotlines with bright bold phrases of
    “HAVE YOU BEEN IN ACCIDENT? ARE THE VICTIM OF MEDICAL MALPRACTICE? THEN CALL US NOW!”
    If I was watching say, the network presentation of “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”, I’d be much happier with them splashing an ad for Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” after the credits since it does relate on a more base level rather then the Holiday Blowout at Wolf’s Furniture.

  3. We love the TiVo, but I would be loathe to let people target me with ads. It reminds of that stupid grocery store thing where they give you coupons based upon what you purchased in the past. My youngest is 3 and we no long need coupons for diapers or formula.
    My kids now get ancy if we can not fast forward the commercials (if we are watchinglive) and I think we would want to get pretty specific with the ads we watch (i.e. anything with storm troopers in it) but we can already do that as we ff. If we see a jedi cutting open a ketchup packet at BK or I glimpse the trailer for Narnia, we simply rewind so we can watch it. I would hate feeling like someone’s target market, though.

  4. As I was reading your entry, I was thinking, ‘Crap almighty! What will they think of next? Anything to shove it down our throats.’
    But you’re right. Advertisements are not going away. If they did we’d be paying through the nose just to watch certain programs – forget channels – it’d be pay-per-view shows all the way. Neither is a perfect world as far as I’m concerned.
    I do like certain commercials. Several of those ‘finance’ company commercials make me laugh out loud. Most of the stuff produced for the Superbowl for instance. But on the whole I agree. I’d rather be able to pick and choose by my commercial programming like I pick and choose the programs I watch.
    I can definately see where privacy is an issue and it’s difficult when there are several different personalities in the house but maybe it could be individual to the t.v. or to the person who turns on the tivo. It could be code driven I suppose. Punch in your ID and you get the programming that’s appropriate for your age and likes. It’s sounding more and more difficult and more and more annoying the longer I write!
    Same volume as programming? That would be cool. I would also like commercial breaks at the 15 minute marks – not every 8 minutes like West Wing used to be or Lost is now.

  5. Well I am a TiVo user for 6 years. I can never live without my TiVo. I have even named my TiVo, Bob. He is a part of my family. I can see why TiVo has thought into this feature. Have you not been approached by a friend at work or out in the mall talking about a really funny commercial or a new product? I mean as we TiVo users know, we do not have to slow down for no commercial if we do not want to. But this commercial or product that they are talking about is just interesting. So me as a TiVo user will not go so fast through commericals to try and catch it. But as I am fast forwarding through my show I may see something that catches my eye. I will slow down and see what it is. Even for a movie preview. Maybe more than once. I sometimes make my husband come from his computer to see a funny commerical I have found in a show. But the point is that as TiVo users we will get the feature. We have the right to use it or not. So who knows if it will be used as they think it will. I guess if I am going to see a commerical I will see it fly past really fast and maybe, just maybe I will rewind to see what it is. But then again, technology changes constantly and we may never have to worry about it and we will have to worry more about options to see commericals durring our shows by pressing a thumbs up. Things change. It happens but as a TiVo user I can use it as I want. Bob will never see a cold choulder from me.
    BTW: EggRadio ROCKS!

  6. I remember from the old days that Prodigy had a way for you to browse through old advertisements, and I enjoyed that to a point. What would really make this service from a consumer’s point of view is if you could exchange targeted ads for your service fees. That sort of idea never really worked with the web that I recall, except for day passes on news sites, but it may work better with TiVo.

  7. Ok, I’m taking this degree right now where I take business courses and IT courses. I’ve read my blue marketing bible by Kotler, and what you’re suggesting is absolutely what they’re teaching to young would-be marketing people.
    Of course, you’re only a find a small blurb about a concern for privacy, but this is where they want to go. I don’t mean Tivo. I have no idea where Tivo wants to go, but the fresh young blood out of college wants to go to this more personalized advertizing.
    From the IT perspective, it’s all in how good the software is, isn’t it? Do it wrong, you’ll keep getting diaper and formula ads well after your kids have left college.

  8. Well, think about how, as a culture, we react to our televison. Look at the budgets, especially in the much larger brands, of these advertisments. In essence, little bitty bits of story are being created. And people still love talking about stories; about the stuff they saw last night.
    “Hey, you see that teevee commercial with the pigs? Man,that was funny. That pig stood up on it’s hind legs and ordered a ham sammich. Man, when he said “make mine pork…I thought I was gonna bust a gut”.
    If that is true, it stands that some might want to look it up and watch it.

  9. I agree completely with skylion. Yes, commercials suck when they get in the way of favorite programs but I’ve also been the person who saw a hilharious commercial and waited impatiently for it to come on again so my husband could see it too. Just a thought, wouldn’t it be cool if you could “collect” commercials for something you wanted and then put them in the middle of your loved ones’ programs? Sneaky, sneaky, sneaky….indeed…..

  10. As a TiVo owner myself, I’m completely fine with a feature such as this. What have we learned in the past 10 years of the web? Undirected advertising does not work. People rarely click on banner ads because most of material is completely of no interest to the viewer. What has worked? Take a look at Google. Their AdWords program of non-intrusive directed advertising is a goldmine and results in a huge response compared to non-targeted ads. I’d certainly rather watch one 30-second commercial that I was interested in than 8 that I couldn’t really care less about.
    I applaud TiVo and their ability to innovate, give customers what they want while balancing that with trying to make nice with the entertainment industry. I think with the Home Media Engine, they’re just getting started.
    I’m still waiting to see the ability for multi-person households to have a log-in feature to the TiVo. This could be a potential solution for targeting ads (It could also be a solution for custom Now Playing lists). Besides, in would help me out since between my roommates and I, I never know when its okay to delete a saved program. Would be nice for me to be able to say “I’ve seen it!”.

  11. I can only thing of one time I *might* actively want to search for a certain commercial… during the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl is really the only time I actually try to pay attention to the commercials instead of a) fast-forwarding over them with my Tivo, b) making restroom and/or snack runs, or c) channel flipping.
    With that said, I could see how that functionality might be useful once a year. Other than that, though… it doesn’t do anything for me.

  12. Sometimes, the only way I can find out if a new episode (of mythbusters for example) is to watch the commericals for the show. There have been a couple of times when the Tivo had an identical description for 3 back-to-back episodes. Two were re-runs, the *middle* episode was new.

  13. I realize that ads aren’t going away. However, I am an early adopter of the TiVo technology, an evangelist who helped convert everyone I know to the TiVo lifestyle. I am a “lifetime” member of their subscription scheduling, having put up the money up front. I really resent the things TiVo is doing to push ads at me. I don’t care if TiVo wants to make it possible for me to search for ads– that’s fine, I don’t have to use that feature. But when TiVo starts forcing me to watch ads– any ads, even targeted ones– I switch that day to MythTV. I can’t stand ads. I have no interest in having ads thrown at me. The fewer ads I get, the fewer movies I see in theatres at $10 a ticket. The less fast food I crave. The fewer brand new cars I buy (this is one I never understand– car commercials every commercial break, and yet people don’t buy a car more often than every 6 years, so for 5 1/2 years, they get inundated with car commercials on the off-chance that they’ll be in the market at that particular moment? And my favorites are the holiday ones…. like anyone but the disgustingly rich buys a brand new Lexus as a Christmas present).

  14. It seems to me that it’s easier to just use a VCR and fast-forward through the commercials you don’t want to watch.
    The choose-your-interests thing sounds to me like all the sites that you register to, pick your interests out of a list they have and then your email implodes with all the spam they send, sometimes only related to the ticky-boxes you clicked by the fact that they’re both online.

  15. There’s only one reason I can think of that would make that feature helpful, or even remotely useful, and the only reason I can think of the reason is because it just so happens that I am doing a research paper on advertising. I’ve been having a helluva time tracking down certain ads that I know are out there, and I know I’ve seen, that I need to site in a very specific way. So, for that reason and that reason only, is this feature a good idea. However, when the semester is over, I have no plans to look at adverts for certain things (in my case, gender role manipulation and definition), so I guess the feature has no longevity in the “useful” dept.

  16. Well, there are some ads that are so clever, I might very well want to find them again just for entertainment purposes. The one that comes to mind is the Nissan ad with the G.I. Joe-like guy picking up the Barbie-like girl in a radio-controlled Nissan 300ZX, all to the tune of Van Halen’s “You Really Got Me.” (In fact, I Googled around and found, not only that commercial, but its sequel, which goes outdoors and has the G.I. Joe-like guy driving a Nissan Pathfinder. Bonus!) So I guess the TiVo feature has at least one use.

  17. There are a few commercials I wish I had copies of. Anyone remember the meteors commercial for Discovery Channel? “Aaah, the atmosphere! Aaaah!” Hilarious! And who can forget the Citroen C4 dancing car commercial?
    And having lived in Japan for a few months now, the commercials ALONE have prompted my girlfriend & I to seriously consider buying a DVR.
    As for “targeting”, though, I don’t think there will ever be a system that really works well for that. Considering how off base some of amazon’s recommendations are (and they’ve presumably got a much larger set of customer data than TiVo would)…

  18. I think the idea is more for when you hear that the new Nike ad is “off the hook” or whatever the kids say these days, you can search for it rather than waiting aroud and hope it comes on.
    I know I love me some Jack in the Box ads (“bun is neither meat nor cheese”).

  19. I suppose this is very capitalistic of me, but wouldn’t this be a great way to force companies to actually have innovative commercials that don’t bash one over the head with the message?
    Remember a few years ago when American Express was doing those commercials with Jerry Seinfeld and Superman? If I were able to sit down and watch an entertaining mini-movie, I wouldn’t care that it was there only to stimulate my impulse to buy. Hell, I love both He-Man and the Transformers, and that’s basically their whole identity.
    I’d be happy to sit through innovative commercials in order to keep my TiVo and my free network TV.

  20. OK, there are two things to say to this:
    Targeted advertising IS comming. There’s nothing we can do about that. I work in digital broadcasting (as a programmer; I _am_ a geek) and I can tell you that broadcasters aren’t even talking about targeted advertising as a ‘future’ thing any more (it’s that sure to be with us in the next year or so).
    But this isn’t targeted advertising; it’s ‘pull’ advertising. I think people will go for that. I can think of quite a few ad campaigns over the years (all UK, since I’m British) that I’d watch at least a few times because they’re good watching. Tango (“You KNOW when you’ve been Tangoed”: a long time ago now, but possibly the most successful ad campaign in history), the Citroen dancing car, the Honda “Machine” advert, pretty much any Guiness advert in the last 10 years (especially the new “Evolution” one), the John Smiths adverts with Peter Kay… the list goes on. Hell – I even like some of the Lynx adverts.
    As other people have siad the best case result of this sort of thing is more innovative, entertaining advertising.

  21. Regarding the privacy issues, I can understand the worries over it, but I wonder how many people who are worried about the privacy issues with TiVO also have Gmail accounts. I mean, isn’t this pretty much the same thing Google does, only with television?
    (for the record, this is the very reason I don’t have a Gmail account)

  22. I’ve got to agree with OsterB. I’m often having conversations at lunch that go like this:
    TiVo-less coworker: “Did you see that commercial for X-Product? It was wicked funny!”
    Me: “I have TiVo.”
    TiVo-less coworker: “It was awesome and funny and then this happened and that happened and I laughed and laughed and I’m still laughing now!”
    Me: “I have TiVo.”
    I might find use in a mechanism to search for commercials. On the other hand, though, I don’t think I want to have targeted ads.

  23. “I love you Tivo” (Ever seen that Robot Chicken episode?) I unfortunately do not have Tivo. I would love to have Tivo, but sadly, it is beyond my grasp for the time being. But, I do have an opinion. Targeted marketing is upon us. Although I feel that we are even more saturated now with teeth whitening solutions and more minutes in more places…er something like that…People do need to know what the next big thing is out there. Whether they know it or not, the masses have a deep seeded need to know what is new and improved and what they simply cannot live without. The only exception I can think of are those kids that had parents that didn’t let them watch t.v until thier little eyes bugged out. We have been bombarded with advertisements for a VERY long time. Some people don’t even pick up a magazine or a newspaper so, thier only source of knowing which long handled shower scrubber will best fit thier no bending over needs is from the magic box. I think that if given a chance, people would love the absolute state of control that picking and choosing the ads they wanted to grace thier window to the world. If you think about it, all sorts of cool demographics could be spawned from crunching all the different numbers from all the different categories and give the big wigs a better idea of what the hippest, most popular products and services the people are drooling over. Could be bad for some and even worse for others. Soon, there will be commercials telling you that you can personalize your commercials. Aint progress a fine, fine thing?

  24. Conversations between Tivo Managers
    Manager 1: We have this great product to sell to consumers – it allows them to record shows easily, and skip ads if they want to!
    Manager 2: Sounds great! Let sell it!
    Manager 1: It’s doing great! We’re not making as much money as we’d like….
    Manager 2: I tell you what, since our customers like skipping ads, maybe we should SHOW them ads…….But let thme CHOOSE the category!!! That will make them happy! Then, we can charge advertisers more since they’re targeted ads….
    Manger 1: Genius!!!! Now we can give our consumers what they REALLY want – the ability to skip old ads, and get NEW ads to replace them!!!

  25. It is possible someone would want to overdose on Labron James or Maria Sharapova or Iverson ads … they might also want to see the movie commercials that might make sense …I could see the Maria Sharapova search or something .. or perhaps looking for a director … guys like Gondry and Spike Lee started in commercials …
    TiVo is trying to figure out how to get add money I guess

  26. Someone smarter than me already said:
    >What would really make this service from a consumer’s point of view is if you could exchange targeted ads for your service fees.
    I think that’s spot-on. There has got to be SOME incentive for the consumer to WANT to look at ads if Tivo’s new initiative is going to work. Just scan this page and look at all the anti-advertising invective. I would venture a guess that the people reading Wil’s blog are the target demographic that marketers salivate over, and almost each and every one of the posters here want nothing to do with targeted advertising. Trading a few minutes of my time each month for a few bucks off my monthly Tivo bill is a great idea from my point of view (but it’s probably a pretty lousy one if you’re a Tivo exec looking at the bottom line). Of course, it leaves lifetime Tivo subscribers out in the cold, breaking Cardinal Bidness Rule Numero Uno of not pissing off your loyal installed user base. Being a month-to-month bill-payer, I have no idea what would encourage lifetime subscribers to want to watch ads.
    (As much as I loathe and despise crippleware, I could easily envision Tivo releasing a Series3 box that has it’s total recording capacity tied to the amount of commercials one watches. “Want more recording space? Watch more advertisements, wageslave, and presto! Your 50-hour box can now record 60 hours!” Ugh.)
    About the only other thing I could think of that would make me voluntarily watch more ads is if – and please sit down because this may be a shocking suggestion and I don’t want folks getting hurt – commercials got better. BMW flirted with making mini-movies to promote their cars a few years ago, and everyone has favorite commercials that really get a laugh (someone already mentioned the Discovery Channel’s awesome “Meteors!” ads, and I am very partial to the Starbucks ads with Survivor following that dude around and cheerleading him through his day – “Glen! GlenGlenGlen!”) I would love it if more ads were like those – catchy, funny, and generally worth watching just for the chuckle I get out of them. So if Tivo’s strategy leads to an increase in commercial quality, I guess I can’t oppose that. But I doubt it’ll happen, because all the money’s in pandering to the lowest common denominator, and PVR users are still in the minority.
    Bottom line: without some way of making me WANT to watch their ads, I will continue to use my Tivo to skip right past the commercials.

  27. Targeting ads is a pretty big industry. I happen to be aquainted with someone who was a big entrepreneur with targeted ads — things like those shopper-cards you get at the supermarkets, so they keep track of what you buy, and (theoretically) send you ads relating to those things (or similar things).
    That’s all about stuff you buy, though, and you’re talking about actually asking for certain kinds of ads. They probably would have trouble getting it to work well.
    One possibility is getting people to “rate” ads along with their initial keywords — when a new product comes out, or a more entertaining ad, they might choose to rate it high or low depending on their interest. You’d get some at random, including the ones you don’t want, but you’d get more of the ones you want/like.
    Another option is to link it to your other shopping habits, which is a huge privacy issue that I hope nobody decides to implement. It reminds me of that scene in Minority Report where they were tracking everyone’s movements and shopping habits by an automatic retinal scan, and targeting ads accordingly. (Tom Cruise, yes I know, but the social implication remains the same.)

  28. Oh please anything to let the drug ads stop …especially about penile enhancement…(I mean what are you supposed to say when your kid asks why Bob is so @#$% happy now?) Not that I have a child, I just fear for his/her future.

  29. I think you may have hit a nerve wil. As for myself I recently heard that the average american is advertised at between 2500 & 3000 times every day, and it seems to be worse for children. If there was a way that somebody could control the crap stream flowing into their own home,I would applaud such a thing. From where I am sitting right now I can see five brands staring back at me! Now I need a subway, a McChicken sandwich and a new drill from home depot…ttfn

  30. I was going to say that I don’t think I’m influenced by ads on tv but then I remembered when I saw the ad for the Dawn foaming liquid with the animated foam vacum sucking up the grease and I know it’s not true. (So far I haven’t been able to find that damn foam)
    For me though, I look more at a commercial’s entertainment value than anything. Like a few years ago during hockey games when they would show the Bud Light commercials with the flying mouse. I loved that commercial and was delighted when my husband got a t-shirt with the little guy on it for his birthday. That mouse was so cute. My current favorite is the (I think) Windex commercial with the 2 birds sitting on a branch and one goes to the front door and rings the bell and when the guy goes to answer it, the bird shuts the sliding door so the guy runs into it on his way back outside. I cackle every time I see that.
    TV Land has those retromercials on from time to time and I watch them. You can’t watch an 80′s retrospective show without seeing the “Where’s The Beef?” ads and companies pay millions of dollars for the opportunity to advertise during the Super Bowl.
    To show just how profitable this idea would be for not only TiVo but also the advertisers themselves, I leave you with this parting image…On a recent trip to Best Buy, while scanning the dvd section for old movies, hubby and I came across a dvd set that was…yup you guessed it, nothing but commercials. Obviously if people will buy an overpriced dvd set of nothing but hours of 30 second tv spots, they’ll sign up in droves for this if TiVo offers it.

  31. Actually, I was just going for a cheap laugh. If we have to have ads, I would rather be able to just get the ones that I’m interested in. But I’d also like more fun ads; quirky stuff, stuff to make me laugh. Like that big bad wolf and three little pigs commercial that’s an ad for some throat remedy. Most commercials I just zone out — no way do I remember what they’re advertising.

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