One in five people who own a DVR like TiVo or ReplayTV say they never watch any commercials, according to a recent survey from Memphis-based NextResearch.
Numbers like that have provoked gloomy pronouncements from industry executives. Some even come close to accusing habitual ad skippers of theft.
"The free television that we've all enjoyed for so many years is based on us watching these commercials," said Jamie C. Kellner, chief executive of Turner Broadcasting. "There's no Santa Claus. If you don't watch the commercials, someone's going to have to pay for television and it's going to be you."
Others are trying to turn the technology to their advantage. Coca-Cola has paid for advertising that appears on the screen of a ReplayTV user when a viewer pauses a program for more than a few minutes. Last week, Best Buy announced that it would embed electronic tags visible only to TiVo users in 30-second commercials featuring the singer Sheryl Crow it is running on MTV. Viewers can click on an icon to see 12 additional minutes of the Best Buy "advertainment," while TiVo records the continuing MTV programming so they can watch it later.
So first off, now, along with the “criminals” that use MP3s, TiVo users are “habitual ad skippers” who commit theft? And if people are doing that, how do they think that offering them a twelve minute commercial for BestBuy within the context of another commercial is going to help? (BTW, we clearly see what side Sheryl Crow falls on in the ROCK vs. SELL debate.)
This next bit is of particular interest to me:
Much of the television industry's response to the new technology so far has focused on a lawsuit that seeks to ban the sale of the newest version of ReplayTV, which allows its customers to set it up to skip commercials on playback automatically, without even requiring them to fast-forward. The machine also allows its owners to send shows to each other over the Internet.
I happen to own a VCR that does exactly what that describes – it automatically blows past commercials without any user input, allowing me to view That 70’s Show in about 22 minutes and without ever putting down the pipe. I bought this VCR about five years ago, and my friends, eager to get their own once they saw its magical properties (the VCR, not the pipe) went to BestBuy to learn that the model had been discontinued because of the industry’s objection to the commercial-skipping feature. So am I to then infer that I’m a TV-stealing thief because I use hardware banned by the advertising industry?
I don’t know what to make of all this, but in some bizarre way, I think this might be good. The giant media zaibatsus will have to come up with some kind of digital rights management system before long, lest sales taper off at Taco Bell. Heaven forbid.