Personal TV Recorders Offer Ad Tool

Tuesday, September 19th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — The companies that are revolutionizing the way people watch television, letting them zip past commercials at the push of a button, are still giving marketers a chance to catch viewers' attention.

TiVo and ReplayTV, leading competitors in the nascent industry of personal video recorders, plan to let advertisers preload commercials and promotional material in their devices starting this fall.

TiVo's subscribers, however, will not be forced to watch the preloaded material: They can opt to play the promotions or not. ReplayTV subscribers will also get to choose whether or not to watch the commercials.

``Here at TiVo, advertising means permission marketing, where the consumer is in the driver's seat,'' said Stacy Jolna, TiVo's chief programming officer and vice president of media partnerships.

TiVo announced Monday that companies such as the infomercial producer Guthy-Renker Corp. and independent film promoter IFILM will have 30-minute blocks of promotional programming time inserted in the hard drive of the devices.

ReplayTV plans to make a similar announcement next week, but refuses to specify until then the kind of promotions that will be included.

The new marketing tool could be significant in an age in which cable television and VCRs — and now also personal television recorders — have all drastically cut the amount of time couch potatoes spend watching advertisements.

San Jose, Calif.-based TiVo was the first to introduce last year the new breed of personal video recorders — a hard-drive system that digitally stores up to 30 hours of TV programming and allows subscribers to watch the shows they choose, when they want, all without the hassle of video tapes. Viewers can pause, quickly scan, do instant replays, or put into slow motion the programs and commercials. They can also tell the personal video recorder to automatically find and record their favorite programs every time they air.

Surveys have shown that while six out of 10 personal TV subscribers are watching more television, many of them are fast-forwarding through more than 80 percent of the ads.

But surveys have also shown some people are watching certain ads more than once, said Jim Hollingsworth, ReplayTV's senior vice president of sales and marketing. ``People watch commercials on goods or services that interest them or are entertaining,'' he said.

For that reason, both companies are offering advertisers the chance to preload promotional content, as a method of direct marketing.

``We're excited because it gives our programming and merchandising partners the opportunity to speak powerfully to television and entertainment enthusiasts,'' said Jolna.

TiVo is offering advertisers 30-minute blocks of programming time that will be added to the hard drive of recorders prior to retail distribution. A promotion by Showtime Quick Flick, for instance, will give clips of Hollywood hits and other upcoming features, TiVo said.

Although it might seem that few subscribers would choose to watch commercials, Josh Bernoff, a TV industry analyst with Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass., predicts that viewers will like having the option.

``It's not like we're putting filthy commerce into a pure entertainment experience. This is television and a commercial is a very natural thing to have,'' Bernoff said. ``What they're doing here is saying, if you're interested in acne solutions, here it is.''

Guthy-Renker, a $350 million-a-year infomercial business, says its top seller is the Proactiv Solution, an acne treatment that is promoted by actress Judith Light and will be part of the content loaded on TiVo's new personal video recorders.

``We see TiVo and other similar technology as just another channel to reach consumers and we believe the technology will be adopted by a large part of the population in the next five years and may very well change the way people interact with their televisions,'' Wendy Gifford, the company's vice president of Internet marketing.

TiVo and ReplayTV say subscribers might someday be able to choose from a large number of commercials and download the ones they want to see, and advertisers will be able to target their ads to specific audiences.

Bernoff of Forrester Research forecasts that 34 million people will have personal TV technology in their homes by 2004.

TiVo's device that can store 30 hours of programming retails for $399, and users must also pay $9.95 a month, or $199 for a lifetime subscription. ReplayTV's service is free; its boxes cost $499 to $599, depending on the amount of programming they store.