For TV and advertising executives worried about viewers' not watching 30-second commercials, data on how TiVo subscribers use their PVRs is worth its weight in gold. And Nielsen is partnering with TiVo to provide it.
"This is something that right now really has a minimal impact on anything but, several years from now, will have a major impact on the way people watch television," says Steve Sternberg, executive vice president, director of audience analysis at Interpublic Group's Magna Global USA.
"We need to know what people are recording, how much they are recording, when they are playing it back, when they are fast-forwarding it, if the way people use TiVo is different from the way they use VCRs, and is there more time-shifted viewing. We need to get a handle on all these dynamics so we can plan for the future."
Last summer, TiVo released a "commercial viewing report," detailing its customers' habits. Nielsen, among other companies, contacted TiVo about partnering on broader research products, and a team was born.
"The industry is clamoring for an understanding of the difference between the behavior of folks with PVRs and traditional TV households," says Kimber Sterling, TiVo director of advertising and research sales.
While TiVo has the ability to collect the information, Nielsen has the infrastructure not only to find the panel of users to participate in the on-going research but to sell and distribute the reports.
At the moment, there are some 1.3 million TiVo subscribers, according to the company's quarterly reports to Wall Street, and some 3 million to 4 million PVR subscribers in general. That's only a small fragment of the 108.4 million TV households in the U.S., but TiVo projects that number will grow to 20 million in the not-too-distant future.
"That seems like a big number, but it's even bigger when you talk to marketers," Sterling says. "Those are upscale homes that equal 40%-50% of some brands' target audiences. That's why the brands need to get out in front of it now. And even though we are still only a million-plus subs at this point, the learning value of this service is priceless even if the media value isn't there."
TiVo already is experimenting with delivering advertising to viewers in a different way. The company is downloading long-form advertising to subscribers' TiVo boxes and promoting it to viewers on their program guides. If viewers are interested in a movie trailer or an advertisement for a new car, they just click an icon on their guide, and the advertisement starts up.
"People are proactively choosing to engage with the content for a much longer period of time," Sterling says. "We are finding that there might be an upside to this in terms of marketing a few years down the road. We might be able to sell more product if we are reaching people who want to hear from us."