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TiVo Enhances Interactive Ads

First partners to include The WB and GM


After years of criticism that its digital video recording service poses a serious threat to the advertising paradigm, DVR pioneer TiVo took the next step towards quelling those critics by announcing the launch of its next generation interactive advertising technology last month.

But more importantly, the rollout includes several major new partners: General Motors and The WB Television Network, as well as other recognizable brands including Ameriquest, E-Trade, Nautilus, Novartis and Tylenol.

The new features build on the existing TiVo technology and integrate client feedback received during the past three years. These features enable advertisers to insert a customized call to action, or branded tag, in their commercial, replacing the generic ad tags previously used by TiVo's advertising clients.

They also ensure that advertisers' traditional TV spots will be more visible in TiVo homes, whether viewed in normal play or fast forward mode; and enhance the customer's experience by allowing them to select the tag and "telescope" from the traditional 30-second ad while pausing their program to view long-form content, make requests for information or take advantage of recording opportunities to enhance the viewing experience.

The new proprietary advertising technology also gives advertisers the ability to receive leads directly from their TV spots, so they can track leads to conversion and ensure a qualified return on investment; and supply additional data for advertisers to gain a better understanding of the effectiveness of TiVo's proprietary tagging feature, the strength of their creative, and the efficacy of their television media buying strategy.

The branded tag is embedded in line 21 of the Vertical Blanking Interval and works in a similar mode as closed captioning. It is triggered by the TiVo box and will only appear when TiVo pushes the campaign live.

"We have been developing the software during the past year," said Davina Kent, director of ad and research sales for TiVo. "It is not a new technology, but the enhancement is branded and intended to intrigue the viewer to click on the icon and learn more" from a 30-second spot or longer form content of anywhere from four to 12 minutes that can contain multiple clips.

"It creates a stronger call to action for the advertiser," she said.

When advertisers send their spots to the network as they usually would, a branded icon will show up on the screen in TiVo homes. The viewer can then request more info, because TiVo has their subscriber information. But that only occurs when the viewer opts in to release their mailing address or other personal information.

"It's an opportunity for the advertiser to offer information as they normally would, as well as move the viewer more quickly through the sales cycle," Kent said, "and the information is trackable, so TiVo can relay various anonymous aggregate data and the advertiser can see what clip the viewer watched and where the icons are effective."

It also offers the advertiser a way to see what ads work on certain networks and in certain markets, for instance.


"What we really want to get across is that we can feature ads that benefit the consumer and advertiser," Kent said, "and we are continually innovating our offerings to both parties and trying to stay in the lead, as far as technology goes, for those advertising and consumer segments."

The new technology was deemed "The true rollout" of TiVo by Richard Doherty, research director for the Envisioneering Group, a technical assessment and market research firm in Seaford, N.Y. "To put it in perspective, this is a new service enablement. Years ago, TiVo said this capability was coming and now they have a couple of service partners."

While TiVo has reported on results during major events like the Super Bowl--the company was able to say how many people reviewed the Janet Jackson "wardrobe malfunction" incident in the aggregate (but not per market), for instance--"this is the first time that there has been any interactive device in the household that can give more info when requested," Doherty said.

"This is a great breakthrough, because when you just bought a car, you don't want to look at a car ad," he said. "But if you do, you want more information and can take advantage of the offer. Overall, this is much better than just being shouted at for 30 seconds, regardless of interest in the product or spot."


Other approaches are being used as this new technology enters the mainstream, Doherty said, noting that Scientific-Atlanta is promoting a similar option.

That point was echoed by Bruce Leichtman, president of Leichtman Research Group in Durham, N.H. "The new upgrade likely goes beyond the TiVo standalone box, because part of their new deal with Comcast calls for further development of the new technology," he said.

While TiVo is looking for opportunities to extend their reach, "The entire market for DVRs is not TiVo," Leichtman said. "If you include their TiVo DirecTV product, they have about 40 percent of the market."

He also offered this cautionary point: "As much as DVRs are doing very well and are in about 8 percent of American households, we should not assume that they are destroying the existing ad model," Leichtman said. "While 88 percent of DVR owners said that they skip advertising, 56 percent of those respondents also said that they were doing that before they had DVRs in their homes."