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Published in IT World
September 19, 2006

Stay tuned. We will be right back after these.

Some time ago I upgraded my satellite TV service to include the ability to record programs very easily via an integrated hard disk. In effect my satellite receiving box became a computer known as a Digital Video Recorder (DVR).

In the intervening period between then and now I have become a significantly less useful individual to TV advertisers. Here is why this is so:

- I sit down to watch some TV
- A program comes up that catches my attention
- Instead of watching it there and then, I record it
- I then pick from the long list of programs I have already recorded and I watch one of those instead.

Why do I do this? Because I get to fast forward through the pesky advertising. My patience level with advertising used to be a lot higher than it is now. My drop in tolerance is, to some degree, a result of my ever-increasing exposure to the Web. On the Web, if something is annoying you click to somewhere else pronto. There are literally millions of channels on the Web - no need to mark time as the advertising passes by. Some of that behavior rubs off on the way I approach TV these days.

Assuming that I am not alone in this behavior, this creates some thorny issues for TV as we know it. TV content and TV advertising have a symbiotic relationship. Creating content costs money which is provided (in part) by the advertising revenue. The revenue from advertising is directly related to the eyeball count that the content can yield. Eyeball count is directly related to the quality of the content. High quality content costs more money some of which comes from advertising which seeks high quality content...and so on.

With DVRs, advertisers can no longer rely on simple models for calculating eyeball counts. How many TV's view the advertisements with no eyeballs at all? In other words, how many of those eyeballs have become mindless DVRs, recording the advertisements only so that the human being can fast forward right passed them?

Web/TV convergence has typically been portrayed as a technology problem. Although this is clearly part of it, I suspect the bulk of it relates to business models. Up until recently, advertising on TV has been different from advertising on the Web. On the Web, you cannot "hold" an audience the way you can on TV. Different methods apply to both media.

The DVR changes all that. TV is becoming more and more like the Web - not the other way around. It is not so much a convergence as a take-over. The TV world is going to have to get used to that fact. So why is it, you might ask, that there is no "record for later" button on the Web? This gets to the heart of the difference between the Web and TV. The Web is like gazillion TV channels all providing video on demand, 24x7. The content is not broadcast at particular time slots. It is published at a point in time and available, on demand, anytime thereafter.

Users of the Web have long been familiar with the idea they - not the content providers - are in charge of their viewing schedule. Web users watch what they want when they want to watch it. The term "prime time" does not have great significance on the Web. Thanks to DVRs, the same is becoming true of TV. People use pop-up blockers in their Web browsers and they use fast forward buttons on their DVRs. Deal with it.

So what will this mean for advertising on TV? I suspect we will see even greater amounts of tight integration between the content and the advertising. Products placed directly into the content. Advertising messages coming out of the mouths of actors and sports stars. Perhaps we will see banner advertising ala Google occupying some portion of the screen real estate?

I suspect the days of the X minute dedicated advertisement break between chunks of content may be numbered. I see no other way to combat the immense power of the fast-forward button.