TiVo cleverly converts commercial skipping into a commercial feature

While you're watching your TiVo, your TiVo is watching you -- not only what you watch, but what you skip.

Approximately everyone who has ever used one of TiVo Inc.'s digital video recorders has skipped over commercials. However, the devices also report, anonymously, every click of a remote back to the main offices, and track that aggregated information for clients of the company's Stop||Watch service, which it has offered since 2006. This from Todd Juenger, Vice President & General Manager, TiVo Audience Research & Measurement, in an interview with BetaNews.

This information can prove valuable to ad agencies and networks. "$70 billion in ad money is spent on television," he told us. "There's a lot of money at risk for fast forwarding."

The Alviso, Calif., company samples 20,000 of its 4 million viewers every night (less than 1 percent opt out of reporting back), then lets its clients know which programs people are watching in real time, which programs they're watching later (known as "timeshifting"), and which commercials are being watched -- and skipped over. And sometimes the results are significantly different between the live and timeshifting groups, Juenger said. He noted, for example, that while ABC's Grey's Anatomy had the top four timeshifted episodes, only one of its commercials was in the Top 10, but that while House didn't have any episodes in Top 10 timeshifted viewing, it included four of the top timeshifted commercials.

Positioning within a "pod," or group, of commercials is also a factor, Juenger said. For example, the first and last commercials in a group are most likely to be watched, at least partially, as people leap for the remote. This helps networks quantify how much higher to price such spots. Similarly, the most popular commercial for both live and timeshifted viewers was just before the announcement of the winner of Fox's American Idol.

Okay, enough of the background. What you really want to know is, what do people watch? Well, for live broadcasts in May, seven of the top 10 commercial spots were during the American Idol finale on May 21 - including Coca-Cola, the movie The Love Guru, Guitar Hero, Ford Focus, and iTunes. Most-watched commercials during other programs were for Dove Body Wash (Desperate Housewives), the Sex and the City movie, and Pizza Hut (Grey's Anatomy). But those are the commercials people kind of had to watch. How about the people who timeshifted and recorded their programs to watch later, who could fast-forward through commercials? What commercials did they see most?

Well, four of them were also during that same American Idol finale: Coca-Cola, Guitar Hero, and The Love Guru. And several others were also the same: Dove Body Wash during Desperate Housewives, and Sex and the City during Grey's Anatomy. What's interesting is that four of the most-watched commercials were during various episodes of Fox's House: the movies You Don't Mess with the Zohan, Sex and the City, and The Incredible Hulk, plus the American Express card.

Subscribers to TiVo's Stop||Watch service include: Omnicom Media Group, NBC Universal, CBS Corporation, The Interpublic Group, Starcom, Carat USA, MPMA, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Media IQ, and Euro RSCG New York. Juenger would not say how much the companies pay for the service, nor how much TiVo earns from the service in general. "It is a strategic platform for TiVo's business," he told BetaNews. "We intend to make it an important part of growth going forward."

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