TiVo to Sell User Viewing Data
June 2, 2003 3:22 PM   Subscribe

TiVo to Sell User Viewing Data TiVo executives said they will be gathering information only in aggregate, such as by ZIP code and that the habits of individual users will remain anonymous. However, not everyone agrees that TiVo can't/isn't tracking individual viewing habits. And now advertisers will be able to see exactly how many commercials we're all zipping past.
posted by stevis (17 comments total)
Given the choice between tivo doing this and me not using my Tivo any more, I'll put up with it. I'd prefer if they didn't, but only slightly, whereas I would be tremendously upset to no longer have my TiVo, whose features are so addictive I have trouble watching TV on other televisions.
posted by jonson at 3:25 PM on June 2, 2003

Pardon the stupid question regarding the commercial skip.

Does the TiVo somehow help you figure out where the commercials are? Or is the "skip" feature akin to recording shows on a VCR and just fast-forwarding through the commercials?

Is it as simple as a button that fast-forwards 30 seconds? Is the TiVo just massively more easy to program than a VCR? What is it that's so threatening to TV advertisers?
posted by scarabic at 3:30 PM on June 2, 2003

I dunno how TiVo's works, but ReplayTV's Commercial Advance skips the entire block when it works properly (when it doesn't, it skips anywhere from 5-20 minutes of a show). You don't even need to press a button if you have it turned on: it just hits the signal or whatever that indicates a commercial break and skips to the return from commercial. You can see where that'd bother a company dropping a few $$$ during Must See TV.
posted by yerfatma at 3:40 PM on June 2, 2003

scarabic: The regular fast forward button scans forward as you might expect at a couple of different speeds. What differentiates it from a VCR's fast forward, though, is that when you hit Play after FFing, it actually *jumps back* a few seconds. So when you see that Law & Order is back on and you stop fast forwarding, you don't have to do that annoying rewind thing to get to exactly where you want. It sounds like nothing but once you get used to it it's really quite cool.

There is also an easy hack (involving pressing a few buttons in order on the remote control) that activates a "30 second jump" feature, so pressing that 5 or 6 times will skip the commercials even faster.
posted by bcwinters at 3:54 PM on June 2, 2003

TiVo has a 3 stage fast forward button. You can also enable a software hack that allows you go jump forward 30 seconds at a time. Not that big a deal except that for TiVo users are basically recording every show before watching them, so they do the same things you might do with a VCR but they do it with nearly every show they watch.

What we need now are some of those TiVo hacker/programmer gods to figure out some way to have the TiVo do random stuff while you aren't watching/recording anything to introduce noise into the data.

One of you get to work on that OK? Oh and while you're at it, I'd like to be able to store my MP3 collection on the unit as well. I know I can now stream them off my computer, but I don't want to have to have my computer on all the time -- especially since the TiVo is already on all the time.
posted by willnot at 3:54 PM on June 2, 2003

Apparently you can opt out by calling customer service at 877-for-tivo (877-367-8486). Haven't tried it myself yet.
posted by whatzit at 4:17 PM on June 2, 2003

I'm ok with this, as long as it stays aggregated and that specific customers are never identified.

I've always thought that once TiVo grows beyond the geek chic set, it could rival the Neilsen Ratings and actually offer much more granular data to networks and advertisers. When you think about the amount of data they have, they could create an offshoot company just to handle it.

I could see them selling the same data to several interested parties. If you are NBC, you might want to know how many people watched all of last week's Friends episode, and which commercial slots they fast forwarded through. If you were Pepsi and you had an ad during that show, you might want TiVo to give you data on all your commercials, so you could figure out how many TiVo owners that watched Friends watched your commercial at normal speed. If you were the ad agency that created the Pepsi ad, you might also buy the same data to see how successful your campaign was.

I could someday see TiVo paying users to opt-in to more data, maybe even waiving the monthly fee if you agreed to give them more demographics. I'm sure advertisers would love to know that their new ad caused 18-25 year old men that make $35k-$50k to stop fastforwarding and they bought the products.
posted by mathowie at 4:51 PM on June 2, 2003

Can I suck up here a bit and say that's f'ing brilliant?
posted by yerfatma at 5:09 PM on June 2, 2003

scarabic, bcwinters: It's more than just the fact that the fast forwarding is easier to use than a vcr.. I've had a vcr for years, and very rarely did i use it to record shows and then watch them later. I used it for video rentals, and the few videos I felt the need to purchase. With the tivo, almost everything I watch is recorded. Even when i'm watching "live tv", i usually end up a few minutes behind, what with pausing for fridge runs, answering the phone, etc.

And yet still, I rarely end up fast forwarding through commercials. Not because I feel it's wrong (I don't), but because I simply forget to. I'm usually doing a few other things at the same time, and before it registers that i'm watching a commercial, its over.

Is the TiVo just massively more easy to program than a VCR?

Well, yes. I hate to sound like an ad myself, but here goes. I tell it i like the simpsons, scientific american frontiers, junkyard wars, etc.. and it records them for me, and guesses about other things i might like. I see it recorded something last night on TLC called "robosapiens".. Don't know what it is, didn't tell it to record it, but it sounds interesting. I'll watch it tomorrow, its supposed to rain. When I sit down to watch a show, I don't think "hmm, wonder whats on", i think "hmm, what do i want to watch."
posted by duckstab at 5:23 PM on June 2, 2003

I'm shocked that they weren't doing this already. The surprising thing (or what would be surprising if they hadn't made this known years ago) is that each unit logs and reports every button press to TiVo HQ. Given that, why is it news that they make money off aggregated and anonymized log data?
posted by aigeek at 5:50 PM on June 2, 2003

TiVo is also scrambling to protect their business and revenue.

Look at what Time Warner is doing. They have a DVR box that ranges from 5 to 10 dollars per month (depending on market) and you don't have to buy the box. When compared to Tivo's $249-299 purchase price plus $12.95 per month, Joe Sixpack is going to sooner go with the cable companies offering. One box, not two, as well.

How many people outside the Geek Chic set want to stream music over Ethernet to their telelvision? How many just want to time shift this week's episode of friends, or make sure they don't miss their syndicated fix of Buffy? The latter will be winning, I am sure.

So as cable companies and satellite firms move towards providing these services themselves, that leaves TiVo in a very akward place. They revolutionized the way the boxes work, but first out of the box doesn't always win the race.
posted by benjh at 5:52 PM on June 2, 2003

I guess I'm just not much of a TV watcher. I have in the past programmed my VCR to record my favorite shows, and the same VCR had a FF button with a 5-second jumpback, exactly as you describe, BCW.

I don't really see how I'd have much to gain for my money except the "pause" feature. And if that's useful, I'm watching in real time anyway, and the commercial skip won't be available. Do I have that right?

As far as having my data sold... I've always wished that somewhere, someone would notice when I turned off crap programming, and perhaps realize what crap it was. Maybe this is a step toward more representative Nielsen-style ratings? More democratic TV?

MMmm. Nah. Probably just more targeted ads.
posted by scarabic at 6:04 PM on June 2, 2003

I know some people will be upset about this, but I'm glad my TiVo habits are getting sold. I'm all for anything that makes television more pertinent to my likes and dislikes.

Some people decry targetted advertising. Personally, I'd rather see ads for performance cars than dish soap, and so I welcome our new data-selling overlords.
posted by mosch at 6:23 PM on June 2, 2003

A good argument.

Regarding the advertising, though--advertisers aren't trying to show you what you will like to see, they're trying to show you what you will buy. I'd like to see advertisements for European and Japanese high speed rail travel, but being in Pittsburgh, I'm not going to buy any tickets. I hate the 1-800-CALL-ATT commercials, on the other hand, but because I've heard of it, I'm much more likely to use that service than I am some outfit whose number has been stickered onto a pay phone.
posted by tss at 7:01 PM on June 2, 2003

As a TiVo owner, ot Tivo Freak, as some of my co-workers may call me, I am not the slightest bit fazed by this.

I could really care less about any info that my television can send back about me. Really. It makes no difference to me whatsoever. There really isn't anything important about it. In fact, I hope the first thing they find out is that they need to make some new episodes of Ali G, Pronto!
posted by punkrockrat at 8:01 PM on June 2, 2003

I'm shocked that they weren't doing this already.

For all that people are up in arms about this recently, the reality of the situation is that they were already doing this anyways. Ok, maybe it wasn't "sold", but there were various "partnerships" that basically allowed certain groups to get access to the data. Hell, they even published the stuff themselves sometimes (hence the articles around superbowl time on which commercials tivo viewers found most interesting (Aka most rewatched)).

One little overlooked fact is that you can call tivo and get removed from the ANONYMOUS data they collect. Ok, yeah, that second link implies that they're collecting it in a non-anonymous manner, but I'd be pretty suprised if it's ever used in such a manner. Tivo is something that's largely sold on word of mouth. The last thing they'd need is for word to get out that they're really collecting individual data, because it'd cause a pretty major flareup among their users. (Tivo zealots are pretty much similar in zeal as linux zealouts).

And if you *really* want to make sure you don't have your data collected, go with a DirecTivo. Nowadays they don't even need a phone connection (or ethernet). The last software update removed that requirement. And if the thing isn't dialing in, it for sure isn't sending the data in. (Besides, the DirecTivo's are so much better than the standalones anyways).
posted by piper28 at 9:07 PM on June 2, 2003

The attractive thing about TiVo to advertisers and programmers and frightening to Nielsen, is that TiVo already has better market penetration than Nielsen does. In most large markets, Nielsen puts boxes in less than 1000 households. (I think there are 700 HH in Chicago). Not only does TiVo give you all kinds of great data about viewing habits, but your sample size is bigger. Nielsen may no longer have a monopoly in the TV ratings business ... or they'd be smart and buy TiVo.
posted by marcusb at 8:06 AM on June 5, 2003

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