Maggie Shiels

Saving TV advertising the TiVo way

  • Maggie Shiels
  • 23 Jul 08, 09:46 GMT

You gotta hand it to those bods over at TiVo land. First of all they invent a brilliant dvr for recording TV programmes that lets you skip adverts and gives you ultimate viewing power. Well now, they have turned that on its head and have incorporated a feature that lets you buy products you either see on a show or on a commercial all from your couch.

TiVo have partnered up with Amazon for this amazing switcheroo. And of course it gladdens the hearts of all those companies who had been paying out top dollar for TV advertising only to have viewers completely ignore their pitches.

Christian Ronaldo and Ricardo Carvalho(Full disclosure here. I was an early adoptor and evangelist of TiVo when it first came out but on my return to the Valley, have had to swap to another provider to get the British footy.)

Now the 'Product Purchase Feature' will pair up any item that is available from Amazon with a TV show and allow TiVo viewers to simply click and buy.

"By teaming with, TiVo enables viewers to purchase products related to their favourite TV shows or what they've seen in TV ads without leaving their couch," said Evan Young the director of broadband services for TiVo.

"For example, if a guest on the Daily Show or Oprah has a new book, CD, or DVD out, you can purchase it on using your TiVo remote without missing a second of TV, whether the viewer is watching live or recorded."

Whoopee! More people getting into debt buying things they don't need and more profits for everyone else.

Frankly I think it's a sell out. I liked the fact that TiVo kinda thumbed its nose at the advertisers and gave us, the viewer, the power to just enjoy a programme without it being interrupted every 12 minutes or so.

Now it's the worst of all worlds.

Advertisers hounding us every which way and the awful prospect of constantly being pitched at during a show and after. I know we already are with product placement and subliminal advertising and that as we walk around our towns and cities we are bombarded by thousands of advertising messages every day. But this is just another slide on the slippery slope to increased debt and probably crass TV.

Ask yourself what is going to happen to all those great documentaries and period dramas that cost a fortune to make. Does it mean they will only get funding if they incorporate this feature?

Let's be really extreme and imagine as we watch Mary Queen of Scots head to the chopping block, that we are offered the chance to buy DVDs on the history of the British monarchy. Or let's say, during that World Cup clincher between England and Scotland (hey we can all dream!) that you get the amazing opportunity to buy the autobiography of Sir Alex Ferguson or David Beckham's new underpants line.

Yes, you may scoff, but who is to say that that is not what lies down the road.

Don't get me wrong. I understand the basic business model that TV needs to make money to make programmes and that advertisers need eyeballs to sell their products and that the advertising pie is being gobbled up by the internet. What I fear is that erosion of great TV and the ability of great TV producers and directors to take creative chances that might not always pay off.

Heck you can see here in America that advertising is already going where it really shouldn't ought to.

On the front page of this week's New York Times there is a story about how the presenters on a morning news programme in Las Vegas sit with cups of McDonalds iced coffee on their desks. The anchors rarely touch the cups. I think that is meant to convey journalistic integrity or something.

Execs at the station say it's part of a six-month promotion to shore up advertising revenue. One advertising honcho at the company behind the scheme admitted to the NY Times that if the programme did a negative news story about McDonalds that the cups should get whisked away or they wouldn't be very happy and would probably can the promotion.

I lament the all pervasive nature of advertising in our world and especially in our very own living room. And now TiVo, the company that made skipping adverts so easy is delivering viewers back into the hands of advertisers. But then I guess that's what they call progress!


  • Comment number 1.

    This is not going to work. First of all TiVo does not have enough users to have a big impact. More importantly, people shop on the internet for good bargains. I love Amazon and it has some nice prices, but they are clearly not always the best. Amazon will not take off on TiVo because people can not compare prices and find better bargains.

  • Comment number 2.

    I agree with Jary316, the main advantage of internet shopping lies with quick access price comparisons.
    An option to buy tied to just one retailer, however large and however varied in it's products cannot give you the best deal every time.
    Most experienced web-shoppers will know this and I think avoid the TiVo/Amazon system, if they have it at all.

    I do however like the general idea, just maybe not in its present form.
    Probably aimed at those who do not have the expertise to shop around on-line themselves.

  • Comment number 3.


    And this will have precisely how much impact on people in the UK?

    Er that would be "zero"

    More US-centric irrelevance.

  • Comment number 4.

    Well this is the American TV system for you.

    I for one am glad to Tivo failed to take off in the UK. If we had this on Sky for example, I'd want justification to pay ANY kind of subscription fee. Its bad enough we have subs AND ads, this would just kill it off completely.

  • Comment number 5.

    Make no mistake, Sky will be watching this and if the scheme makes money they will copy it.

    Hell, this is the same Sky that ripped off Tivo's PVR concept (Tivo made the mistake of contracting Sky to do their UK marketing), and claim credit for it.

    I still use a Tivo, and despite it's age and lack of multi-channel recording, it's still a better and more reliable machine than Sky+ has been.

    That said the idea of adverts during shows is terrible. Product placement can be annoying enough, but I hate the thought of having my viewing disturbed outside of the normal commercials, which are bad enough on their own. I would expect however that unless the machines come with an option to switch the feature off, they won't sell enough to make the scheme a success.

  • Comment number 6.

    What surprises me is how often ad revenue is proffered as the answer by new media companies, as if it was a bottomless well.

    In difficult conditions ad agencies complain that advertising budgets are one of the first things to be cut. So apparently what is happening is a fight for a slice of a diminishing resource.

    It's contended that there is a major trend for switching ad spend out of TV and on to the net. This is the trend that the ISPs are hoping to ride with the help of Phorm et al, who are predicting big profits.

    I should like to know how media buyers are making their decisions and on what data, other than being dazzled by the possibilities of the technology.

    It seems to me that the net is the most advertising resistant of media, as consumers quickly wise up to how easy it is to block the majority of ads. Not only that, with ISPs throttling traffic, they realise that Flash(y) ads are using up the bandwidth they are paying for.

    This is where Google have it so right with the ads on their search pages, the only ads I'm ever likely to click through, unobtrusive, relevant and low bandwidth. But they aren't suitable for mass consumer messages about everyday purchases.

    To me it makes sense to continue to use TV as the major brand driver and supplement it with what the net does well and that is not high resolution, full frame rate, 30 second advertising spots for the foreseeable future.

    Regrettable as it may be, what Tivo are doing makes sense to them. They may be 'over there' but what's sauce for the goose is always sauce for the gander.

    Right now there are meetings going on over here dreaming up ever more devious ways to grab a slice of the ad budget and slap us upside the head with it, while making us pay for the privilege.

  • Comment number 7.

    With all due respect, TV talk shows are mainly (but not entirely) subtle infomercials for the guests. It is virtually unheard of for a celebrity to appear on a talk show without being there to promote their newest book/movie/TV series/etc., or to try to clean up their image after doing something they regret (caughting caught) doing. I don't think enough people realize this.

    I don't mind this, nor do I mind commercials as someone has to pay for the broadcast. Besides, some advertisements are quite entertaining, plus it is good sometimes to have a break when watching TV to go to the bathroom or fix a snack.

    However, I do find the volume of commercials excessive on some programs so I will skip them if I'm watching a show I have recorded.

    The broadcasters and advertisers have brought the widespread annoyance with TV commercials on themselves by going overboard with it.

  • Comment number 8.

    Irritating as TV ads and product placement are, we viewers have to realise that this is still the pre-eminent means of paying for teveision shows to be made. That is precisely why (particularly in the States) programmes are cancelled because of low ratings.

    An interesting trend in USTV over the last few years has been the number of shows cancelled after just a few episodes (Firefly probably being the most famous). The squeeze on advertising budgets means that networks can't afford to give a show time to build an audience, simply because advertisers cannot commit their increasingly limited TV budget to a low rated show ... even a good show that may prove successful over time.

    This is just as true in the UK (with Sky+) as it is in the USA, just less pronounced as our population is only just really getting to grips with the kind of choice available to US TV consumers for years.

    Like it or not, the TV companies have to find ways to persuade advertisers to part with their money, otherwise TV production budgets go down, meaning fewer shows of lower quality, more repeats and (God forbid) more reality television.

  • Comment number 9.

    Early in the days of the Internet, advertising were surprised that the process "clicking through", i.e. clicking on adverts we found on websites, was very much less popular than they hoped. Advertisers had to develop all sorts of ingenious ways to get to us, while we install ever more resiliant pop-up blockers, etc. In short, most people don't like adverts, or at least the feeling they're being pressured into buying something, so I don't see this new "click to buy" tool being that successful. Though it may have a future on MTV.

    Personally I'm greatly amused by the latest campaign for a Tivo-like system in the UK, featuring a number of "celebrities" extoling the virtues of the machine. None of them mentions its most popular function, that of being able to skip the commercials.

  • Comment number 10.

    Let's just hope this inadvertantly brings the PVR hero that is TiVo back to the UK and we have a competitor to the Sky+ propaganda elephant.

    As for the concept itself, sounds like a good idea, as long as it doesn't intrude on either your viewing, or the programme, then what's the harm?

  • Comment number 11.

    1. This is very relevant to the UK market. TV and Internet providers are constantly looking at ways of maximising their income - even to the extent they are willing to break the law as has recently been shown in the Phorm debacle.

    What happens in the US eventually happens here - so if it's on TiVo you can bet your bottom dollar it'll be built into digital cable services here in the UK soon. Anyone thinking this is a US issue is in for a shock.

    2. Some posters are assuming their own prudent shopping habits apply to everyone. The fact of the matter is more likely to be that even if sales are tied to one outlet such as Amazon, there will be a huge customer base more than happy to forgo a potential few pence savings on a book or DVD for the convenience of a one click purchase. You only have to look as far as the shopping channels for proof in that - these channels are immensely succesfull selling people products they don't need and could find cheaper elsewhere.

    There's a huge convenience factor in this new idea that will be very attractive to consumers, the pay off will be in how obtrusive the system is. If it breaks you out of film for example, there would be an uproar - but if it's a small brief logo during an interview, that could be quite handy.

  • Comment number 12.

    @AlistairGD - no break out, no logo. It's just an additional item in the menu that is already shown at the end of the recording/programme - "Delete this programme", "Do nothing" and now "Buy the CD/DVD/Book/whatever".

    This blog entry is inaccurate and based on assumptions, painting a grim picture of a feature that might be useful to some TiVo viewers and which certainly isn't a big deal for the rest.

    Of course other PVR manufacturers (I'm thinking of you, Sky...) may eventually implement the same concept in a far more intrusive way, but TiVo have gone on record to say that they have no intention of implementing features that are annoying or intrusive for their customers.


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