Your Ads Are Safe With Me


New York— Like people who own TiVos, I time-shift a lot of TV, and I fast-forward a lot of ads.

But the networks don't seem to feel I'm much of a problem, just because I do it with a VCR.

Not owning a TiVo, it's hard for me to the gauge the accuracy of a phrase I must have heard 10 times last week: Using a digital video recorder (TiVo) "fundamentally changes the way you view television."

There are still some skeptics. One, Christopher Byron of the New York Post, panned it again last Monday ("Tivolution Takedown"). Among other things he said: "TiVo's big selling point is supposedly that it lets you cut out all the commercials from your favorite shows. But can't you do the same thing with a VCR already?"

Sounds logical to me. But for some reason, you don't see panels held during which major-broadcaster executives worry aloud that aggressive VCR use could end up costing their industry $20 billion a year in lost ads. I went to such a DVR-centric panel on time-shifting TV last Wednesday night at ABC's offices, along with many network and ad-buying types.

Wonderful speakers from SeaChange International Inc. (server-based "personalized TV") and Scientific-Atlanta Inc. (DVR in a big honkin' box) tried hard to reassure that cable guys will make it hard to skip ads and have clever new ways to make ads more enticing. I hope others were reassured. There are lots of other things these days more important to lose sleep over.

My take: Too many people are either panicking over TiVo's 30-second skip button, or are ignoring the DVR effect simply because TiVo has only sold 700,000 units.

I put that to Denny Wilkinson, the former PrimeStar marketer who also ran Princeton Video, a virtual-ad technology provider. Now he's doing some venture investing in digital-TV-related stuff.

He doesn't have a TiVo — he had one for work, but had to give it back when he left. But he's one of the ones who said it fundamentally changes TV viewing, backing that up with a story about a friend whose kids suffered withdrawal when the DVR was away for repairs.

He reassured me there isn't a lot of real panic — yet — but said DVR features aren't going to disappear. He thinks ads are here to stay. He thinks they'll just get better: targeted more directly to individuals, wrapped tighter into the programming, et cetera. He also thinks operators are playing it smart by dabbling in DVR, testing price elasticity and matching satellite DVR capabilities while also maintaining high hopes for their own ad-sales growth.

A tech-savvy friend who had laser discs years ago told me he isn't getting a DVR until it comes in the cable box. I'm sure a lot of people feel that way. Of course, DVR stuff from your cable company is coming — that was another
talked-about piece last week, in Monday's The New York Times about Time Warner's Mystro. The story took pains to note that Mystro won't let you skip advertisements.

For those who don't want to wait for Mystro to come to your town, I pass along this response from a TiVo-devotee friend to whom I passed Byron's article, and I'll let them be the last words.

"Ughh I'm ill over this. Don't take my TiVo awayyyyyyyyyyyyy."