The Revolution Will (Finally) Be Televised

When you hear the following terms, which medium comes to mind?

Interactive. Clicks. Links. Lead generation. Portals. User data. Tracking. Opt-in (and -out). Real-time data. Brand metrics. Accountability. Cookies. CPM. Keyword search. Home network. Streaming. Broadband. Dial-up. Precision geotargeting. Retention. Acquisition. User control.

Did you answer, “the Internet”? You’ve got some catching up to do. It’s high time all you Luddite marketers out there became familiar with a radical new advertising medium: television.

The introduction of Web terminology to TV advertising is due largely to the popular and rapidly growing TiVo digital video recorder (DVR). Branded the “TiVolution” (and under the stewardship of a brand-new, as-seen-on-TV president, network veteran Marty Yudkovitz), the company is conducting a major campaign to dispel any notions advertisers, marketers, brand managers, and agencies have that TiVo is the enemy. Seeking revenue streams beyond fees from subscribers, who may use the technology to skip broadcast ads, TiVo wants to be your friend and partner (and to shake the image of a Napster-like pariah, bent on the obliteration of Madison Avenue and the major networks).

We Come in Peace

This requires only a complete change in the way you think about TV advertising. The challenge may be better met by those who were undaunted by the Internet a few years back. Ultimately, the so-called TiVolution could prove very beneficial to online advertising. When broadcast is as measurable on TV as it currently is online and agencies and marketers are held as accountable for TV spot performance as they are for online campaigns, the playing field will more likely be level.

TiVo devices currently reside in only 700,000 U.S. households. But what households! These are young, upper-income early adopters. They love and evangelize their DVRs with Apple-like brand fervor (can the resemblance between TiVo’s logo and the Happy Mac be accidental?).

“I have no idea why they’re having this party,” confided a TBWAChiatDay creative director at a TiVo event in New York this week, “but it’s TiVo, so I’m here.” He owns one, and just bought one for his parents.

TiVo’s hip quotient is a big help. Everyone at the company says they’re having no problem at all getting face time with the agencies and marketers they want to reach. The message: TiVo is the ad-friendly DVR. (Assuming, of course, “advertising” is reconceptualized as “branded entertainment.”)

Pull, Not Push

Early this month, TiVo announced a new service — near-real-time tracking of viewing habits. Reports will track a sample of the TiVo universe with data on par with Web metrics’ granularity: what programs and commercials they watched, how long they watched, what was onscreen the moment they switched channels. The idea, to use another Web term, is to help programmers “optimize” their fare.

Naturally, TiVo employs the method with the “advertainment” aired on the “TiVo Showcase.” Showcases allow viewers to see images, backgrounds, and video clips; read editorial and/or promotional content; request information, order samples; respond to surveys; and schedule recordings. Viewers opt in to showcase content with onscreen navigation. Video showcases can run up to 12 minutes in length. Classic 30- or 60-second spots are not encouraged.

“It’s a creative director’s dream,” says TiVo’s Kimber Sterling, director of advertising and research sales. “They all want to make movies anyway. Communicating with a target for three or four minutes in an opt-in situation is a win. Most agencies are very interested in learning about viewing habits and ad options. I don’t think the agencies are as invested in the fear factor as the networks, who are asking, ‘Is this going to replace everything, will everything change?'”

An Austin Powers-themed showcase was viewed by 68 percent of TiVo households, who spent an average six minutes with the content. To date, most showcases are sponsored by major film and music distributors, but Best Buy’s “Electronic Feng Shui” showcase induced viewers to stick around an average of three minutes.

Star appeal, combined with the ease of editing longer segments of existing celebrity interviews or behind-the-scenes stories, makes the entertainment industry low-hanging fruit for the format. TiVo promises it’ll soon announce travel, fashion, and possibly pharmaceutical advertisers. Packaged goods present a somewhat greater challenge when it comes to creating branded entertainment viewers will elect to watch — or watch again, as content can be stored on the DVR. The format is ideal for Chrysler, which this week announced the work of finalists in an online indie film production contest will be available to TiVo subscribers. “It’s really the only distribution outlet open to them other than the Web,” notes Sterling.

PBS partnered with TiVo recently to explore retention and acquisition and to study how subscribers use keywords to search for programming. The company wants to optimize program descriptors in the electronic programming guide to enable viewers to more easily find and watch PBS programming. With thousands of channels as options, search could become as critical to television as it is to the Web.

In addition to new options for advertisers, TiVo introduced Home Media Option on its Series 2 DVRs to consumers this spring. The box can now be networked to a home computer and other home DVRs, allowing viewers to listen to music or view digital photos on their TVs. The connectivity also allows remote TiVo programming via a Web interface.

I asked Sterling if these networks might have implications for advertisers. “The obvious evolution of the home network and broadband could mean our advertising could be more real-time,” he said. “We could use an Internet delivery system and wouldn’t have to buy broadcast time.” Advertainment content is currently delivered via traditional broadcast during off-hours and stored on the DVR drive.

TiVo’s current privacy policy doesn’t permit targeting more precise than by Zip code, although the company has the capability to target by household. Just imagine targeted, personalized, trackable, opt-in campaigns. On television! Who would’ve thunk it?

But wait — isn’t that what the online industry’s been thinking all along?

Meet Rebecca at the Jupiter ClickZ Advertising Forum in New York City on July 30 and 31.

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