PBS, outblitzed by the commercial networks when it comes to promotions to drive viewers, is looking to TiVo as a way to get inside of viewers' heads and hard drives.
PBS will send program promotions to TiVo subscribers' personal video recorder hard drives for six months beginning in September.
The first promos will highlight programming about the events of last Sept. 11. After that it will become a quasi-testbed to find out what types of promotional efforts viewers get the best response.
"This will show how it can actually be a tool for building and expanding audiences, and therefore the businesses around them, as opposed to the more destructive things we're accused of," says Jim Monroe, TiVo executive producer. "We're going to see that we can be a pretty constructive player."
Deron Triff, PBS senior director, digital content strategy, says the network has tested TiVo and other PVRs in its lab, taking a closer look at the intelligent-engine functions that recommend and sort content for viewers.
On the surface, the goal of the upcoming project is simple.
"We'll be working with TiVo to make sure the device recognizes PBS viewers and recommends programming," says Triff.
Underneath that surface, however, is a complex use of metadata, one that Triff hopes will become more refined. For example, right now PBS metadata for a program currently isn't granular enough and doesn't differentiate one type of children's program for another.
"We want to refine the way it defines the programming so that segmentation becomes much clearer," Triff says.
PBS will have access only to the "Video Showcase" portion of the drive that TiVo has set aside for similar promotional efforts. Recent promotions that have appeared on the drive include Mr. Deeds, Austin Powers in Goldmember, and videos and band interviews promoting a new CD and single by Counting Crows.
PBS will have access to a little more than eight minutes of the drive.
"Advertisers embraced that because we did some early work around it that they were encouraged by," says Monroe, "and I think the timing is becoming right for the networks when they launch shows in the next couple of months."
Triff says TiVo will help drive viewers to event television, like extended series.
"If we're planning a series of programs like we are around 9/11, this will get those trailers and previews out in front in a similar way to what the movie studios have been doing for years," says Triff. "Otherwise they might not know it exists."
The network also expects to take advantage of the TiVo iPreview function, something that NBC has already used.
The feature places promo spots on the TiVo hard drive that, when played back, present the viewer with a chance to automatically schedule a recording of the program.