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Nielsen to measure TiVo usage 331

Posted by timothy
from the and-how-many-drives-have-you-installed dept.
ny_cable_guy writes "The following letter went out to all of Nielsen's clients this morning: 'Working together, Nielsen Media Research and TiVo have developed software that will enable the extraction of tuning, recording and playback information from TiVo's PVR system. TiVo has downloaded this new software as part of a normal system upgrade via phone lines to existing TiVo subscribers across the country. This software would be used only by Nielsen Media Research to retrieve data from sample households, and only with permission from the household, as is the case with all homes in our samples. It is otherwise inactive in non-Nielsen homes.' The full letter has been reprinted here on netWert."
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Nielsen to measure TiVo usage

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  • by sllort (442574) on Monday August 05, 2002 @02:47PM (#4013551) Homepage Journal
    The new Nielsens are out, and there's been a bit of a shakeup in the ratings war! Friends is out of its number 1 spot, replaced by the Simpsons and second runner Junkyard Wars... Anime appears to be America's new addiction.
    • by prator (71051) on Monday August 05, 2002 @02:53PM (#4013607)
      Well, thanks to my wife, we will probably get to only watch Trading Spaces all day/every day.

      -prator
      • In addition to Ground Force and the ever flopping breasts.
      • That's funny. My wife does the same thing with Trading Spaces, along with Sex in the City. Now that we have a small child, Sesame Street and Barney (*shudder*) have been recording regularly. Alnog with my Six Feet Under, Simpsons and the obligitory night time trash tv like 5th Wheel.

        Our viewing stats must look quite weird for a 28 year old white male.

        • Oh don't be surprised if they're not. I'm a 28-year-old male also, with a wife and kid. In addition to my own shows, my TiVo gets Zooboomafoo and Sesame Street and Bear in the Big Blue House for my son, plus Forensic Files and Trading Spaces for my wife. That and the 47 other wishlists/season passes.
        • I think the only thing my wife watches other than Trading Spaces is Martha Stewart and Emril Legasse. ...and she wonders why I don't watch television with her.
      • If you're watching Trading Spaces - you're missing out! My wife and I got hooked watching Changing Rooms and Ground Force on BBC America and when Trading Spaces got going, though - heck, that's probably good, too. *eh, no* The humor is not *nearly* there, the designers aren't *nearly* as good (though quite a few of the designs on Changing Rooms suck, too). And the narrative is poor as well.

        Go figure ... in any case, TiVo in our household (expecting our first child) would probably look like this: Changing Rooms/Ground Force, Martha Stewart anything, Stargate (at times), ST:TNG as much as I can swing, Enterprise (when nothing above is on) and Sex and the City Sunday nights. What else? Oh yeah - Love Boat (LOL), Simpsons and Futurama (at times - but not reruns).

        When none of these things are on and no good old movies are on AMC or other movie channels, we'll stick in the faithful Northern Exposure tapes, which are pretty much complete, save a couple (maybe 5, tops) episodes. Seems in the summer we're grabbing the NE tapes more and more!
    • It's less representative than that. The geeks driving up the Junkyard Wars/Anime ratings are more likely to opt out. People like my roommate's boss, who only see TiVo as the next evolution of cable (but know nothing about the technology driving it or the privacy issues) won't opt out.

      So basically, these ratings will be based on the subset of TV watchers who:

      • Have TiVo
      • Do not opt out
      The irony of the situation is that even though the data will be only be dead-on accurate for a tiny subset of TV watchers, it will probably be the most accurate ratings data the industry has ever had!
    • Hey... at least this might save Futurama!
  • .... thats a good thing. I don't see the problem with this, and since they are asking why is this a /. article?
    • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland @ y a hoo.com> on Monday August 05, 2002 @02:49PM (#4013577) Homepage Journal
      1)it involves TiVO.
      2)it is nice to see that some companyies can be have in a professional manner when regarding there customers.
      • by barnaclebarnes (85340) on Monday August 05, 2002 @03:08PM (#4013722) Homepage
        Of course that is because the research is being run by a market research company who is bound by certain [mra-net.org] ethical standards.

        this prevents them from passing on identifiable data unless the respondent specifically says yes.

        In most instances (99.9%) companies belonging to the MRA do follow this code. I used to work for a market research company who once tried to pass on data without permission but our group (Data processors) refused. we won as they had no moral right to make us do that.

    • Sure, they're asking us now, but remember those clauses in the privacy policies of various companies that say "we can change our privacy policy without notice"? Tivo could (a) indicate to its current customers that it's changing it's privacy policy (per their current policy) to one that allows them to make changes to the policy without notice, then (b) six months later, it changes its policy again to allow for opt-out data collection (instead of the current opt-in version).

  • That explains it. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by NiftyNews (537829) on Monday August 05, 2002 @02:48PM (#4013559) Homepage
    Hah! I just scoured the Tvio forums for the reason why my Tivo (and a few others) oddly locked up Saturday night. I guess this explains it...
  • by Marx_Mrvelous (532372) on Monday August 05, 2002 @02:48PM (#4013563) Homepage
    I'm glad to finally see this. One of the big benefits of TiVo and the like is that they can so much more closely moniter what demographics are watching which shows with more accuracy.

    What this means for TV viewers is that the shows that people actually watch will more frequently stay on the air, and the commercials they show will be better suited. It's about time!
    • by plover (150551) on Monday August 05, 2002 @03:05PM (#4013703) Homepage Journal
      But what value is this, really? Think about it. TiVo viewers (along with ReplayTV viewers) DON'T WATCH COMMERCIALS. Why else would you own one of these machines?

      So, what possible use could the Nielsons have for this data, since it's precisely the demographic that ignores advertisers?

      • So they know what shows to add more and more product placement to? I suppose there's some sort of chance that this information will somehow get networks and advertisers to see the light and work toward changing the current economic model into something that works better with PVRs and other such things. Maybe by accepting lower profits, and a less dynamic industry, where it's not as easy to get rich quick (or die penniless), but a nice, stable industry. Like making gravel. Or whatever.
        • exactly...

          I wonder what exchanges in the future will be like - for example - pizza:

          Ross: C'mon guys lets order some pizza.

          Joey: OH! OOOH OOH! get Dominoes!

          Chandler: BSHAA! like - no. Little Ceasars is the best.

          Ross: no mountain mikes?

          Rachel: why - remind you of someone?

          Ross: We were on a BREAK!

          Chandler: So dominoes it is.....
      • by CMiYC (6473) on Monday August 05, 2002 @03:15PM (#4013775) Homepage
        Why else would you own one of these machines?

        I own the machine for a variety of reasons. Not watching commercials is not why I ran out to purcahse one. Personally I travel a great deal. When I do get home, I like to be able to watch the TV shows I missed while I was gone. Sure I could that with a VCR, but it would be a pain. (of course the VCR also lets me skip commercials, but its not why I bought it a long time ago.) TiVo makes it simple to do that. When I'm home on Thursday night and Friends is coming on, I don't wait for it to be over. I watch it live. Most people are not going to waste 30 minutes of their life so that they can watch 20 minutes of TV by skipping commericals.

        If TV show producers would make shows so interesting to watch that I would always want to see it ASAP (aka Live), then I wouldn't have an oppertunity to skip commericals.

        Its not as if Nielson is going to base ALL of their statistical data on the TiVo's viewer's habits. The percentage of TiVo viewers is very small. However, we are real people and so it simply broadens their sample with little effort on their part.
        • Actually, I know a number of PVR users that make it a point to not watch a show until it is 15 minutes into it so that they can skip the commercials.

          I'd rather watch a Southpark or Simpsons episode for those 15 minutes than watch commercials. With my ReplayTV, I still see a glimpse of the commercial (well, at least 4 glimpses, one for each time I press the 30 second skip). There have definitely been times where I have gone back to check out a commercial that cought my eye in that half of a second window each they have to actually market to me.

          I really don't feel bad at any lost revenue the networks might feel as no one protects my industry to make sure that I am still compensated for any stale business model I might insist on pursuing.
      • But what value is this, really? Think about it. TiVo viewers (along with ReplayTV viewers) DON'T WATCH COMMERCIALS. Why else would you own one of these machines?

        Um...while skipping commercials is nice, I was doing the same thing with my VCRs. Killing ads really didn't enter into the decision to buy a TiVo. The main reason I bought my TiVo is that it makes timeshifting much simpler. You don't have to juggle the programs you want to record between multiple devices, you don't have to worry about running out of tape, etc. It also does a better job of finding what's on when and finding interesting stuff than the average VCR.

        (It also helps that I can rip video from my TiVo [alfter.us], edit out the ads on my computer, and burn the result to SVCD for archival purposes. SVCDs take up less space and deliver better image quality than VHS.)

        • Everyone talks about skipping commercials, but there are actually times I've used my tivo to HUNT DOWN commercials.

          The commercials for the Fox show "FireFly" coming out this fall, for instance. There have also been times that I've hunted for humorous commercials... or commercials that tell a 'story'. (Like the car commercial where the guy interrupts the wedding... is there ever going to be a sequal to that?)

          During the superbowl, Tivo knew that the most watched commercial was the pepsi/brittany spears ad. That is valulable information to some marketing company willing to shell out a few bucks, I'm sure.

      • Have you received any of the 'ads' in the Tivo menu? I had one several months ago "watch the lexus commercial and register to win a new lexus', and then commercials for the movie "Mr. Deeds".

        Once they know that "Tivo watchers record a lot of "Simpsons" episodes, and that "regular Simpsons viewers buy a lot of Macaroni and Cheese", expect to see some "Watch the Kraft Commercial and register to win" menu items in your tivo.

        -db
      • by Deven (13090)
        TiVo viewers (along with ReplayTV viewers) DON'T WATCH COMMERCIALS. Why else would you own one of these machines?

        You obviously don't own a TiVo.

        Yes, most TiVo owners tend to fast-forward through commercials, though they can't skip them entirely or automatically (unlike ReplayTV). However, as the existence of primetime "best commercials" programs indicates, people will watch commercials if they're good. (Many people watch the Super Bowl for the commercials because advertisers tend to work harder on making those commercials better than the usual tripe.) While I routinely fast-forward through commercials on my TiVo, I also regularly rewind to watch one which catches my eye. The moral? If advertisers want people to watch commercials without needing to coerce them into doing it, they should make better commercials that are worth watching.

        While skipping commercials may be popular (since we're all sick of being bombarded with commercial messages), timeshifting is the real killer feature of the TiVo, not commercial skipping. Until you "get it", the TiVo just sounds like a glorified VCR, but that's really an inadequate description. While a VCR is useful for timeshifting "must see" programs, it's enough of a hassle that it's only used when necessary. With a TiVo, most users soon find they're recording everything of interest (usually automatically), and watching programs when convenient. You stop scheduling your life around TV schedules, and there's always something you like available to watch no matter when you sit down at the TV. If you're interrupted by a ringing phone, you pause the TV. If you want to see something again, you rewind it. You can pause and rewind on live TV as well as prerecorded shows. (My 2-year-old daughter gets upset when we can't rewind the TV in the bedroom on demand!)

        To the uninitiated, the TiVo's features seem more like parlor tricks -- neat tricks, but not really important, and not worth paying for when you have a VCR already. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of what PVR's are really about. It's not just an enhanced VCR. It fundamentally changes the way you watch TV, and once you get used to it, you'd never go back to the plain old VCR. Just ask any TiVo owner.

        Better yet, go buy one from a retailer with a 30-day return privilege and see for yourself. I doubt you'll end up returning it!
    • closely moniter what demographics are watching which shows with more accuracy.

      Ah, to have a zip code that speaks Klingon...

      Of course what is scary to me is if people suddenly do start picking their future location based on cable sort of demographics. I can image some religous nut, wanting to live in a zip code with other like minded show watching religous nuts. It's hard to have a democracy when you can't tolerate your neighbor's viewing habbits. If someone thinks that this data isn't going to be availible to the public, think again. All the government has to do is buy it like any other company.

      Image the next census, 2 women one story house like to watch the man show. hmmmmm
    • I don't know...seems to me like they'll be getting more data on households where the Head-of-Household is 25-34, education/income is at a certain level, and at least one person in the household is an Early Adopter. EVEN IF they trim down their sample so that it is nationally representative (which is what it sounds like they're doing), the data is still skewed by the Early Adopter nature of most TiVo owners.

      Don't think that this will be any more accurate that the data they have now. They will still have to do a good amount of weighting/statistical manipulation to be able to extrapolate the viewing habits of the general population. So, if they are going to end up weighting/manipulating, it really doesn't become any more accurate in the areas of data that they already have.

      In my opinion, the big gain here is being able to measure what people are recording. It tells less about viewership and more about personal preference...and will probably be of little use to advertisers (commercials are skipped) ...it's really a new type of data, not more accurate old data.
  • Well done (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wilburdg (178573) on Monday August 05, 2002 @02:49PM (#4013566)
    It seems to me that in this age of exploiting customer information, Nielsen has always gone out of their way to respect private information, through opt-in programs, and anonymizing data. As a marketing information company this is very unnusual, and should Nielsen should be commended for this.
    • Not knowing a whole lot about the internal process of Neilson, how does one become part of their "Neilson Family"? I'd actually like for my viewing habits to be part of their statistics. Of course, I have a ReplayTV and not a Tivo [I know, Tivo users... Shame on me. ;^) ]

      The Conspirosy Theorist in me thinks that a network might pay Neilson some change and hand over all of the viewer contact info they get from their more popular shows as folks to ask to be part of the "family".

      Seriously, I've never been recruited. Though I'd like to be.

      • No, neilson likes to do accurate samplings of homes based on demographics and such. They will contact a home and request that they participate, never the other way around. They also request that you never tell anyone you are a 'neilson family'

        I think this whole tivo thing is so they don't have to give you a seperate box to monitor your usage.
  • by levik (52444) on Monday August 05, 2002 @02:50PM (#4013580) Homepage
    I think this is actually not bad at all. Nielsen has shown itself to be a good citizen when it comes to collecting viewing habits across the nation. And the fact that this is an opt-in feature rather than an opt-out one seems to go with that reputation.

    Making these TiVOs useful to the corporate world is good, since they are getting a cheap and easy way to get to their data, and in return their interest is now vested with this machine that the MPAA isn't too comfy with. Hopefully, TiVO just got itself a supporter in the media camp.

    Now perhaps if the money from Nielsen can be used to subsidise driving the subscription cost of TiVO down, I may finally get one :)

    • Hah. I must be really strange, because no one seems to agree with me.

      A truly good application, would be one that let you "mark" commercials with the thumbs down button, and from that point on, Tivo would recognize the commercial and clip it out of recording AND display.

      How? Well, first off, don't be a retard... refuse to subscribe. Then, if you need to, download an image of the 1.3 software, and install it. (Sorry, but the new software sucks) Then, build a crosscompiler for your linux box.

      Now, how can software like this work? When you press the button, the tivo would work backward, looking for the mostly black frames that signal a wipe or transition. Once found, it forwards again, to the first few frames of the commercial, and creates a signature for them. Then, every time a new transition occurs, check if its a commercial.

      And yes, I am working on it.

      Voila, advertisers are put back in their proper place, a dank little hole in the ground.

      Fuck you, marketdroids!
      • This may be grabbing at flaimbait, but if an advertiser's proper place is a dank little hole in the ground, who do you expect to pay for your TV-watching?
        • You mean the broadcasters won't produce content for free? ;)
        • I think product placement will be the future of advertising for television. It already is a big staple of it (how often do you see a TV char using an Apple?).

          I am willing to be that the future of web advertising might make better use of product placement than it generally does now as we see pop-ups phased out (like iVillage and AOL seem to be leabing toward).

          AOL has already started with their IM that pops up a user portal by default when you open up your IM interface, at least on Mac and Windows. You get some mindless junk to click around on, but notice that Time Warner gets to push a lot of their latest entertainment content that way.

          • Don't despair though... hopefully by that time, the Tivo's of the day will be powerful enough to recognize and re-render any blatant product placements.

            They will also give us the ability to watch the evening news with Dan Rather as a blue-skinned Andorian wearing a leather miniskirt.

            Technology can fix anything (except possibly the nightmare I just inspired, sorry, I was only trying to be flippant).
        • The billions we've payed isn't enough?

          Marketing/advertising is a flawed idea, that has outlived its usefulness in human civilization.

          Not that that will stop it. You ask who "will pay for" questions, never stopping to realize how much money is wasted on it. Those doing the wasting don't seem to mind, so who cares, right?

          There are better ways, more efficient ways, for customers to find what they want/need, that isn't the social equivalent of carpet-bombing. These ways don't use barely ethical psychological tricks to persuade people to buy. Sure, some companies would go under, the ones that don't have a product truly worth buying... will that be so sad?

          When it's all said and done, I expect to pay something for my TV viewing, but I don't want ads crammed down my throat. I don't have to read a page of advertising for every 10 I read in a novel (though I hope I don't give any ambitious little cockraoches any ideas).
          • I don't have to read a page of advertising for every 10 I read in a novel (though I hope I don't give any ambitious little cockraoches any ideas).

            The ambitious little cockroaches have already struck. It is a nifty little innovation called a "magazine".

            They seem to have the formula backwards though. Most have 10 pages of advertising for every single page of content.

            I.V.

      • Have you Metamoderated today?

        Now not only do we have this on /. but also on TiVo.

        Does /. have a patent on this?

  • by Erv Walter (474) on Monday August 05, 2002 @02:50PM (#4013582) Homepage
    I'm surprised it has taken this long. Letting the studios and networks know what shows I watch and what shows I pass over will hopefully steer them towards more shows that I like.
  • How do I sign up? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by minus23 (250338) on Monday August 05, 2002 @02:51PM (#4013592)
    I have a TiVo ... I'd love for my habits to be known. -- Errr I mean that really. -- When I change the channel because a show I don't like it comming on... I want that to count as a vote against that show. -- Vice-versa for good shows. As it is right now... no one knows what *I* think is good, except me.
  • omg!!!! (Score:2, Funny)

    by Wakko Warner (324)
    This is so invasive! Even though I have to tell them to turn it on, think of the potential for abuse!

    My Rights Online are being slowly eroded!

    - A.P.
    • *thinking, thinking*

      Sorry, as long as they go with the bit about not turning it on unless you ask and anonymizing the data, i can't really come up with any potential abuses.

  • Good! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Clue4All (580842) on Monday August 05, 2002 @02:51PM (#4013597) Homepage
    I can't count the number of times I've thought to myself "Wow, this is a really good show, I wish the network (*cough* Fox *cough*) knew how many people watched and enjoyed it, because I know they're going to can it next week." The TV rating system is both broken and unrepresentative, and this would be an excellent step in changing that.
  • Aren't Neilson families traditionally compensated financially for keeping their notebooks? If so, I want cash to help pay for my TiVo's upkeep! Just because my diary of TV watching is kept on a Linux system instead of paper shouldn't make me a second class citizen...
    • Aren't Neilson families traditionally compensated financially for keeping their notebooks?

      We were a Nielson family once... they sent me a crisp $1 bill, up front. Nothing later, even after a week of accurate journaling...
    • ...was that they sent you a $50 U.S. Savings Bond every six months for participating. I know, because I was selected when they launched it back in 1997 (I think). I eventually uninstalled it and opt-ed out a year or two ago. The software had stability problems from time-to-time and the bandwidth it occasionally sucked on a modem connection were a bit of an annoyance. More importantly, I was a little worried about them knowing what freaky-ass pr0n sites I visited.
  • Ratings for Guide? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BitGeek (19506) on Monday August 05, 2002 @02:52PM (#4013603) Homepage

    One of the things that Tivo owners don't seem to like is paying the monthly fee to get the guide.

    I wonder if giving up all your viewing habits might be valuable enough to cover funding the guide.

    Part of why the guide is as much as it is, is that Tivo didn't want to make a lot on the boxes, but to make it instead on the guide (give away the razor...) But the other part, that I don't think many realize, is that the correlators of this guide data see it as a goldmine and want to exploit it as much as possible. You have to have big money just to even talk to them about getting at their guide data programatically.

    This is why most of the open source PVRs are using screen scraping to get guide data. (If any one knows of a free guide service with the coverage of TV Guide, please correct me!) But even then they are tenuous-- TV Guide is counting on ads covering the cost of providing the guide via the web. What will happen when they work out that so many of their page views never request the advert images?

    While I'm not confident that the value of providing viewing habits would cover the cost of providing the guide-- is this a tradeoff that you would make for your PVR?

    Do you feel strongly about the monthly fee for guide service, and if you do, what alternative business model would you propose?

    (Apologies if this seems offtopic, was figuring a lot would be worried about having their data go away, and wondering what the would make that a viable proposition for slashdotters.)

    • But even then they are tenuous-- TV Guide is counting on ads covering the cost of providing the guide via the web. What will happen when they work out that so many of their page views never request the advert images?

      I'd guess that so many people hit TV Guide for the usual reason that even if the entire Open Source community decided to each work on their own PVR projects, that "screenscraping" would still be insignificant.

      If there's a problem, TV Guide will let us know loudly.


    • One of the things that Tivo owners don't seem to like is paying the monthly fee to get the guide.

      Not me.

      I own 2 TiVos and paidup the lifetime cost of the subscription guide for both of them.

      I don't mind paying because it's a useful service.

      What I do mind is how the automatic updates of the TiVo software can basically trojan in almost anything. Mostly I'm concerned about privacy intrusion such as finding out exactly what I'm watching and when. Also, I dislike the advent of the new almost-forcefeed "features". (My wife was complaining about how she couldn't delete some Sheryl Crow video prominently displayed from the main menu a couple of months ago).

      I already have a DVD player that thwarts me from fast forwarding through the drivel at the beginning of movies.

      With the software evolution possible in TiVo, they may position themselves away from what consumers would like and more towards what advertisers and content-producers like. If they do, then I will drift away from TiVo and write-off the subscription fees as a mistake in judgement. (Kinda like paying for MS software upgrades before you know exactly what you're getting, eh?)

  • by xTK-421x (531992) on Monday August 05, 2002 @02:53PM (#4013608) Homepage
    Bob Poniatowski (aka TivoPony), TiVo's PR rep, posted here [tivocommunity.com] about how this doesn't monitor non-neilsen homes.

    (Ripped from the post)
    "'Every TiVo' is a gross overstatement. There is software we can enable if you're a Nielsen household. This software allows the Nielsen box to query the TiVo and find out what is currently being displayed onscreen. But you not only have to be a Nielsen family, meaning you opt-in to data collecting per their privacy policy, you also have to opt-in to data collection from TiVo, per our privacy policy. And, as I understand it, Nielsen comes out and does some serious wiring in your house. So it's not stealthy at all - the Nielsen households involved are well aware of what is happening. As far as how and what Nielsen measures or counts...you'd have to ask them! Again, this is only for Nielsen households - not 'every TiVo recorder'."
    • Honestly, how many times has a show been cancelled and you've wished to yourself, "Man, I wish I had a Neisen box so those network bastards would know what I really like?"

      This seems like a great opt-in opportunity to democratize the airwaves, as it were. Neilsen gets a bigger market sample to forecast with, ratings become more accurate (at least for the tech-savvy, tivo-owning demographic), and we get more input into the shows we like - more than "boycott this sponsor!" or a half-assed writein campaign.

      Hell, if it meant I could opt-in, Neilsen or not, I'd buy a Tivo. You betcha.
      GMFTatsujin
    • Seriously....where are they? Is anyone on here a Nielsen household? I don't know anyone in my circle of friends/family/acquaintances who's a Nielsen family, so I can't imagine the ratings are so accurate, as I know a fairly broad swath of people in the New York / Boston "under 25 professional" demographic.

      Feh. This all boils down to my being pissed off at Family Guy and Futurama going bye-bye.

      --noah
      • Nielsen asks their people not to tell anyone else.

        Neilsen FAQ [nielsenmedia.com]

        Why haven't I ever met a "Nielsen family"?


        Actually, you may have. There are hundreds of thousands of "Nielsen families", including diary and metered households. We ask our households not to reveal they are in the Nielsen Media Research panel. This protects their privacy and helps ensure the integrity of the panel. In the few cases where homes have revealed their NielsenTV status, we removed them from the metered panels or disregarded their diaries.
      • My girlfriend's mother gets tapes of new shows from Neilsen and reviews them. I watched one with them a couple weeks ago.

        siri
    • I'm a little confused by this. TiVo has reserved the right in their agreements to share non-specific demographic information with any party they choose (for example, they are allowed to say "10,000 homes in Oregon watched last night's A-Team episode within 1 hour of its airing." While they would not be allowed to say "Joe Frump watch the first 10 minutes of A-Team, but then switched to Dukes of Hazard."

      So, I don't see why Neilsen couldn't just take the statistics from TiVo for every household and be done with it.
  • Why is this even news? What, because a company sold the rights to its demographics info? That happens on a daily basis.

    Frankly, I see it as a good thing for everyone involved. This may require loosening your aluminum-foil hat if you're a Big Brother Is Watching type, but..
    1. Tivo makes more $$, increases its chances that it survives (along with my paid-up lifetime subscription to guide data)
    2. The networks can add one more person (me) to the audience counts of shows I like, microscopically increasing the chances that those shows are renewed
    3. Advertisors can figure out which demo I am in and can tailor their ads to me. The ads are going to be there regardless, so they might as well interest me.
    4. Advertisors are slightly more likely to advertise with/via Tivo, giving me more of those handy "Press Thumb-Up now to record this show" links during new show promos.
  • Not quite news.... (Score:3, Informative)

    by stevel (64802) on Monday August 05, 2002 @02:53PM (#4013614) Homepage
    This topic came up in the TiVo Community forum a few weeks ago, and there is a response from TiVo in the thread explaining exactly what is going on.

    http://www.tivocommunity.com/tivo-vb/showthread. ph p?s=&threadid=68099

    In part, "There is software we can enable if you're a Nielsen household. This software allows the Nielsen box to query the TiVo and find out what is currently being displayed onscreen.

    "But you not only have to be a Nielsen family, meaning you opt-in to data collecting per their privacy policy, you also have to opt-in to data collection from TiVo, per our privacy policy. "
  • by swordboy (472941) on Monday August 05, 2002 @02:54PM (#4013615) Journal
    I've always wondered why they don't ask for participatory commercial effectiveness voting. The Tivo would be an ideal device for this type of system. It would work like this:

    When a commercial comes on, the viewer(s) are allowed to rate it on something like a 1 - 10 system. The results could be compiled and bad commercials could be automatically blocked (as a viewer preference) while good commercials could be compiled on the Tivo's drive and watched in a manner that the late adcritic.com had assembled.

    I *watch* the Superbowl for the commercials. If this kind of system was implemented and widespread, commercials would become more effective and entertaining (or even informative). As a sidenote, it'd be cool if slashdot did something similar. I'm hesitant to mod down a post that I might disagree with even though I still might find it interesting. I.E. - INTERESTING+1, DISAGREE+1.

    The world could be a better place, eh?
    • They'll have to track demographics related to commercials, too, and the perception of a commercial over time.

      On the demographics front, what a 12-year old and a 24-year old think of as "good" are two different things. If they can target ads to me based on my age/gender demographic and interests, fine by me. But I don't want to sit there and watch lame commercial after lame commercial because the Generation Y skr1pt k1dd13z think it's cool.

      Furthermore, my perceptions of commercials change rapidly over time. I don't know if anyone has followed the Tour de France day-by-day over the last few years -- both ESPN and OLN have done this, and gotten a small number of sponsors. Those sponsors have their ads played constantly, and what was, at first, a commercial that I'd give about a 5, quickly becomes a -5.

      This might also force a whole new glut of commercials as people get sick of old ones.

      OFFTOPIC: Things I'm sick of: that f--king Geico lizard, the Lincoln Navigator ad with the jazz quartet (see Tour de France coverage on OLN), ads for The Country Bears, and that stupid buy-drugs-fund-terrorists shit (which was lame the first time they aired it).
    • TiVo already does measure commercial viewing. A few weeks ago they released the findings of a study which noted that people watched funny commercials, and commercials with beautiful or naked chicks in them.

      There's no need for a 1-10 scale, when you can already just see how many people bother watching them. Besides, TiVo would use Thumbs Up/Down, not 1-10.

  • Good and bad... (Score:4, Informative)

    by AlphaOne (209575) on Monday August 05, 2002 @02:56PM (#4013630)
    This is both good and bad news.

    The good news is that PVRs are gaining acceptance in the broadcast industry. Rather than being undermined, they're being recognized.

    It also means that there are enough PVR systems (TiVo specifically) in the world that the audience is significant.

    The bad news is that the various networks use the ratings to price advertising and make scheduling choices.

    Since one of the major features of a PVR is to be able to rewind and fast-forward at will, an obvious side-effect is you can simply skip commercials. This is bad for advertisers for obvious reasons.

    There has already been reported discussion of a higher level of product placement and "text crawl" type advertising rather than traditional commercials. PVR-based ratings will either confirm or refute the speculation that PVR users view few or no advertisements.

    This in turn could motivate programmers (broadcast, not code :) ) to find new and creative (and likely very annoying) ways to advertise to their audience.

    • Since one of the major features of a PVR is to be able to rewind and fast-forward at will, an obvious side-effect is you can simply skip commercials. This is bad for advertisers for obvious reasons.
      You're right, I never did that with my VCR.

      I say it every time someone mentions this... How is Tivo's fast forwarding different than my VCRs? It's not as far as I can tell. My 1998 vintage VCR even does the "jump back a few seconds to make up for human reflexes" thing quite well. And other VCRs I have seen have the skip 30 seconds at a time feature as well. Hell, a friend of mine bought a VCR for his parents that would go back over the recorded material, figure out where the commercials were, and mark them so that you never had to see them again!

      I think the skip commercials arguement is a red herring on the part of the entertainment/marketing industry. What they're really worried about is the ability, on a wide scale, to share content (even if it came from broadcast TV!)

      Milalwi
    • The bad news is that the various networks use the ratings to price advertising and make scheduling choices.

      There is really nothing "bad" about it. It is the entire model. That model tells you whether Shark Week is getting more air time, or whether anyone is watching Masterpiece Theatre or not.

      You really can't say that statistics are evil.

      That is, until they replace your favorite Saturday afternoon show with Charles in Charge.
  • Trust (Score:2, Flamebait)

    by Rick the Red (307103)
    Why is it that I trust Nielsen when they say, "This software would be used only by Nielsen Media Research to retrieve data from sample households, and only with permission from the household, as is the case with all homes in our samples," but if this news came from TiVo I'd scream for help ripping the code out of my box?

    • Bacause Neilson has a very long history of protecting the privacy of the users.

      I believe this is because of when the neilson began it would have been disasterious to tell people anybody could find out who they are and what they are watching.
      I remember my grandfather talking about when the neilson began, and the nation wide concerns over privacy.

  • Since they'll be able to observe when people fast-forward through commercials, the quality and viewability of commercials will be under the gun. There are some good commercials worth watching if you're in the market for a particular product or the commercial is simply entertaining. Other commercials (ie those for feminine hygeine products) aren't worth it.

    I've come to accept that if I'm not directly funding a channel like HBO with a subscription, then commercials are a way of life. So, they might as well try and pitch to me something I'd consider buying rather than talking about pouring blue water on things and playing tennis in white pants.
  • ...report when the shows are watched and is advertisements are skipped? I'd think this information is as important and useful, if not more so, than just whether a show was watched or not. Are people watching recording Friday night shows to watch them on Tuesday night when nothing really good is on? Are some poeple not watching the entire show? why not?
    • I am reasonably comfortable with the thought that the Tivo will be telling the Nielson box periodically what it being displayed on the TV. If the show is half an hour, and only 18 min. are being viewed, the comercials are probably being skipped. If it is an hour show, and view time is 40 min, liekwise. If view time is longer than show time, then the user probably paused the program for some reason, and may or may not be skipping comercials.

      Given the amount of hardware that is required to support a nielson home, and so forth, the only way that I can see TW, or ATT making use of this feature is to rebuild their cable boxes so that they can connect to the serial port on a tivo (I don't think this is an option on DirecTivo) and encourage the tivo owner to cross connect them for some reason.

      Then again, I could be wrong.

      -Rusty
    • Tivo does this absolutely.

      I remember reading an article (maybe from ./?) where the Superbowl viewing stats of Tivo users were released to show the commercial viewing habits for the yearly commercial slugfest.

      I remember hearing the the Pepsi/Britney commercial was the one rewound and replayed the most, more than any actual game play durring the superbowl.

      Which is music (money) to the network's ears.
  • The Nelson figures can be skewed by the fact that Tivo can "push" a program, and Tivo can watch a program that the members of the household will never view. Networks will know that the numbers are junk, but they will still base advertising rates on them.
    • I'm not sure about Tivo, but I know ReplayTV definitely knows the difference between your PVR recording and replaying. Most of the time, my PVR is off when I am not there. If the unit has to turn itself on, it marks that in the info transfered back durring scheduling updates.

    • Since I'm sure that the software won't report it as a view, if nobody watches it.
  • I and my wife, for the past two years, have been using and loving TiVo. And I can't tell you how many times I said that I'd sign up in a second if they wanted my permission to take my thumbs-up/down rankings and viewing habits for use in the Neilsen ratings.

    As I see it, I want my viewing habits to count. If there are thousands like me that love this show and dislike that show, then that should be reflected. There have to be cases where the determine-it-via-a-sample approach don't catch everything.

    And better yet, it determines what we actually watch, not what we say we watch. If I say I really like show xyz because I want to like it but never actually watch it, that should be reflected in the ratings. Any Neilsen families using log books instead of automated devices goes through a filter we don't need it to.

    Awesome. Sign me up.
    • Your point are good, and I agree with them as long as who I am is left out.

      Imagine what would happen if i was found out you where watching something unpopular in the political sense?

      Do you want people to take note that you watched an above average number of minutes on shows about aids? Do you want your insurance company to know that someone in your household has been watching shows on cancer?

      Noe neilson has an excellent reputation, and I'd like to see that they intend to keep it that way.

  • by ebusinessmedia1 (561777) on Monday August 05, 2002 @03:08PM (#4013723)
    Why do we have a content preference measuring system that only measures preference about what broadcasters are currently 'throwing at the wall'?

    Why don't they measure what consumers want *before* the fact?

    Largely, mediocre content is continually thrust into the broadcast arena, and Neilsen tells us which of the mediocre broadcasts are the best ones. Does that really improve the quality of broadcasting/programming, or give consumers what they really want?

    It would be refreshing to see someone come up with a way to poll users (with appropriate rewards for their time) on what broadcast consumers *want* to see, instead of telling us which bad content is the best bad content.

    btw, I'm not talking about the lame broadcast "focus groups" here; they simply have consumers watching still more drek that has been modeled after broadcast content created with Neilsen ratings in mind - that's part of the problem!)

    In a way, Neilsen ratings - used as broadcast and ad marketing decision tools - are the antithesis of good marketing, because they don't get at consumer preferences *before* the 'product' is created. In the current scheme of things, Neilesn ratings serve primarily producers and advertisers of content, not the consumer - and this is one very good reason why content producers and advertisers are having so much trouble surviving.

    • It's been tried. The problem was that people would ask for more Masterpiece Theatre, but watch Baywatch anyway.

      Face it, TV is a guilty habit for a lot of folks. What you posted would have been more the case in the days when the Big Three networks were all you had (assuming you could even receive them all). But with hundreds of channels on cable or satellite, people have a pretty good chance of getting some of the stuff they say they want, at least occasionally. But guess what? They don't watch it.

      Everything from government subsidy to "public access" channels has been tried to "improve" the quality and breadth of TV programming. And it hasn't worked.

      -Ed
    • First, I'd like to agree and amplify Piquan's sibling comment. Customers don't know what they want. Remember the Simpsons Poochie episode? Check this episode [snpp.com] (search the text for "Speedo men", it's the couple of sections below that.).

      "Customers don't really know what they want" is virtually the first axiom of software engineering, and it holds for other disciplines as well. (Ask an architect about their customers... not quite as extreme as software, but they still get asked for the moon.)

      Second, attempts to bypass Sturgeon's Law generally fail worse then if you just roll with it. Seeing what sticks is a necessary part of the process and can't be removed. It's the way of things.

      In fact, you're already in a world where everything is being done to remove risk from the equation, everything is already being done to make sure that the shows stay on the air and aren't mediocre, and it's failing miserably. If the networks had a looser hand, a wider variety of ideas might be tried out, and hey, the next one might be the next Survivor. There's a good reason we recently imported so many show ideas from Britain...
      • ""Customers don't really know what they want" is virtually the first axiom of software engineering, and it holds for other disciplines as well. (Ask an architect about their customers... not quite as extreme as software, but they still get asked for the moon.)"
        *********
        Frankly - and with due respect to engineers - it *just this attitude* that results in the impossible UI problems that consumers have been facing forever.

        I would recommend Alan Cooper's book "The Inmates Are Running the Asylum" to anyone that thinks consumers are to blame for all the thousands of hard-to-use technology products out there. It's exactly the reverse.

        Cooper was one of the founders of a discipline called Interaction Design. This discipline looks at what the *goals* of a consumer are relative to the technology proposed. It's a process that delimits feature creep, employs strict architecture and coding templates, and keeps engineers working on a path that's based on *consumer preference* (relative to goals), instead of "hey, let's use this cool piece of legacy code", or " let's throw in this cool feature".

        The same could be said for broadcasting behemoths - they just don't listen. Look at the billions (literally) wasted on poor programming.
        It doesn't have to be that way.
    • Interesting point, but how would it work in practice? Remember what Matt Groening said about Fox and Futurama? That they wanted something exactly like The Simpsons, but completely new and different.

      Would it be any different if they asked me and thee? I'd ask for proper hard core porn, a 24/7 Buffyverse channel, and serious history shows that don't fudge or feature glaring anachronisms. The first they can discount because of the damn moral majority, the second they already know from the Nielsons, and the third is so special interest that it's simply not worth their while (how many people really care that much about sword pommels?).

      But it gets worse. Bear in mind that Slashdot posters represent the marketeers worst enemy, the informed consumer. Why should they even care what you or I think? They'd be better off asking Joe Sixpack over there. Want to bet what Joe wants? Joe wants more wrasslin', and his wife Josetta wants more Oprah.

      Let's not be too hasty to ask what type of programming would be the most popular, because chances are that wouldn't lead to more shows that you and I would want to watch.

  • but got turned down because of my TiVo.

    A canvasser came to my door and explained how the program works. Apparently, the prior owners of the house were Neilsons as well. We filled out an application, but the canvasser didn't know if TiVo would be a problem -- it was.

    We got a call a week afterward saying that we couldn't participate. I wonder if I'll get another call. If I do, I can't tell you. No one is supposed to know who the Nielson families are.
  • The more I think about this, I would want to opt in with my tivo. Far too often I have watched some of my favorite shows go off the air. Perhaps if a large enough demographic of TiVo users do this, some of the more "geek" (for a lack of a better word) shows like futurama will stay on the air. I would be willing to bet that that audiance is largly the audiance that have TiVos.
    • I would agree. But how does one opt-into the Neilson program? I wonder how Neilson recruits folks into their program.

      The conspirosy theorist in me would say that the tv networks are likely as trustworthy as the record industry and Sound Scan. Does Neilson ever take any customer contact info from the networks to recruit "family members"? Folks who are more likely to have particular network affiliations (like they seem to watch every prime time Fox show)?

  • by millisa (151093) on Monday August 05, 2002 @03:37PM (#4013926)
    I am 100% for this method of data collection. Tivo has always been very supportive of the technical community. They do not try to block modifications to their systems and even build in features to assist (the new Tivo 3 software allows you to enter a certain area code in the dialing software to enable dhcp support if you happened to have put in a tivonet type card). They are supportive of me, I will be supportive of them.

    As for the ratings systems, I'm all for them using my usage data as long as they keep it in an opt-in format. For those of you not familiar with Tivo, you can rate shows with up to three 'thumbs-up' or three down. The Tivo will use this data to pick out 'suggestions' on what you might want to see. You can also set priorities on your set recordings (season passes) so that say, Every Futurama episode is recorded, even though there is an anime showing on another channel at that time. In the event you don't have anything pre-set to record and the Tivo thinks you might like something, it'll record something else on if you've got the space. (after I watched the mining rescue on MSNBC one night, my tivo thought I might like to watch some other news type channels so it recorded an hour of the weather channel's 10 minute updates . . .thumbs down)

    So, not only could the data be used on what I watched, but it could show how many times I watched it and whether or not I'm giving it anywhere from +3 to -3 on my viewing scale. I may end up watching Ricki Lake at Tivo's suggestion, but it doesn't mean I wish I had.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 05, 2002 @03:38PM (#4013930)
    I have to post as an AC because I am a member of one of A.C. Neilson's "panels", but not the one for TV ratings. They have been excellent at keeping my information private. I have never received any unwanted solicitation that could be traced back to my participation with them.

    The way compensation works on the consumer panel (scan barcodes on what you buy and transmit once per week with acoustic coupler on scanner, also answer occasional surveys) is that you are awarded points for transmitting information. If you transmit four weeks in a month you get a "Super Scanner" bonus. The points for each week and "Super Scanner" go up if you've been with them longer. Also you get points for surveys.

    The points are then used to "purchase" gifts from a catalogue. You scan the barcodes like a survey and in a couple of weeks your gift arrives. I've received about $1000 worth of stuff over the past 10 years and I still have a large number of unused points waiting to build up for a larger ticket item. The items change. Some of the nicer large ticket items include a small tv/vcr combo and a nice astronomical telescope (which I got for my kids).
  • Personally, I'm thrilled they're doing this. The more they automate the process, the less they'll have to depend on people keeping diaries. It saddens me to think that the fates of shows I love are determined by little notebooks that may or may not have been filled in correctly by people who may or may not have actually been watching the shows they said they did.

    I remember hearing a piece on NPR's "On The Media" a while ago that pointed out that many people don't mark down shows they only watched part of (i.e., 45 minutes of an hour-long show) and some people even lie to make themselves look more cultured. Hardly a reliable method for getting accurate viewing numbers...

  • OK, so there's been some interesting discussion here about how Tivo might be able to benefit financially from this sort of data collection. In fact, it might help defend against the networks' claims that we Tivo owners are "stealing" their content through time-shifting and fast-forward (editorial comment politely omitted).

    of course, it'll be interesting to see how they measure commercial viewership wrt PVRs (real-time viewers per slot? time-shift viewers per slot? fast forward x1, x2, x3 viewers per slot or per commercial?)

    anyway, I've noticed a couple of things on Tivo, that lead me to wonder whether Tivo's already deriving revenue from content providers (not an intrinsically bad thing, but it could force Tivo to be beholden to their new meal tickets...):

    Tivo had a *ton* of Goldmember links (videos, ads, etc) on their main page recently.

    also, as i was watching network tv this weekend, i noticed that, as a commercial hyping a new (ABC?) series was playing, a "press (thumbs up icon) to schedule recording" message showed up on the top right of the screen.

    wonder what Tivo got paid for *those* placements..? Anyone out there in the know?

  • by NanoGator (522640) on Monday August 05, 2002 @04:24PM (#4014227) Homepage Journal
    ... that Tivo (or variants) is the best method I have to watch their programming. I'm sorry, but my life is not based around time-slots. If they want me to watch their commercials, they need to find a way to make that compelling to me.

    If they use this data to say "people are filtering out commercials", the proper response is NOT to disable the commercial filtering technology. If commercials are so obnoxious that people will spend $400 for a gadget that filters them, then the problem is definitely not that people are thieves. The problem is that they're not catering to their audience. If I am willing to spend that much money to filter commercials, then removing my ability to do that will result in removing my interest in watching TV.

    If they're smart, they'll use the data gathered here to say "Maybe we should cut commericals down from 2 minutes to one minute, and have fewer breaks. That way, people won't be bothered to use the 30-second skip." Heck, if AOL can learn this lesson, why not the TV Industry?
    Funny thing is, I can see this approach resulting in people watching TV for longer. My attention span is short enough as it is. A commercial can kill my interest in a show. That's not good.
  • OOPS (Score:3, Funny)

    by iceT (68610) on Monday August 05, 2002 @04:41PM (#4014345)
    ue to a logic error, a "NOT" was missed in an expression, and we accidently turned on all of the TiVo's for collection...

    My-bad.

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