This hit at the end of last week, but I hadn’t had time to write an entry about it.
Approximately 12% of US households now have a DVR of some stripe – TiVo or otherwise. That’s a large enough group that DVRs are impacting TV ratings. Current ratings only count those who watch shows ‘live’. Now, frankly none of us matter unless you’re a Nielsen family, but Nielsen does include DVR households in their sample population. At this point the official data does not include any DVR viewings, but in comparisons some shows show a major change in their ratings when DVR viewing is included. A show may be the #2 show in a time slot, but that might mean that a number of people record it and watch the #1 show live, then the #2 show later. However, only those who watched #2 live are counted to day.
Why is this a big deal? Well, ratings are tied directly to ad prices. And revenue determines if a show stays on the air, or gets the axe. Most of the time that’s just shortened to ratings determining which shows stick around, but it is really about the money. Earlier this year ABC tried to force a market change. They wanted to start including DVR viewings in the ratings used in ad sales. That would, naturally, increase the ratings of many shows, and thereby raise the ad prices. Ad buyers, of course, strongly objected to this change because it would me paying more money for the same ad slots. ABC tried to build a coalition with NBC & CBS, but they both chickened out – ABC was therefore forced to cave in and sell their ads based on the traditional ratings for this TV season.
Well, it is coming around again. This time CBS is talking about adjusting ad rates based on commercial viewings. This would’ve been supported by new commercial ratings data that Nielsen had been scheduled to release beginning on December 11th. However, last week Nielsen announced an indefinite delay on the commercial ratings data because of the controversy it has stirred up in the industry. They claim that they want to delay the release to allow for further industry conversations over how the data will be generated and used.
This left a void which TiVo seems eager to fill. Following the delay, TiVo president Tom Rogers sent a letter to 70-odd TV and cable networks, advertisers, ad agencies, etc, pitching TiVo as a data source. While Nielsen measures viewing information minute by minute, TiVo can measure it second by second. TiVo can also do more analysis on the viewing based on the position of the ad in the ad break, length of the ad, etc. While TiVo doesn’t have the broad coverage that Nielsen can provide, they do have 4.5+ million subscribers in the field, as their agreements allows them to collect data from both their standalone boxes and the DirecTiVo users. Also, as Comcast and Cox roll out TiVo software, the sample population will grow. And TiVo has ad agreements with both cable MSOs which extend beyond boxes running the TiVo software, so perhaps they’ll be able to collect data from an even larger audience.