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Tivo Advertising

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TiVo, which allows users to capture television programs and fast-forward through the ads, took the TV world by storm when it was introduced. There are a few competitors to TiVo--the device is known as a Digital Video Recorder, or DVR--but few have had the impact or usefulness of the original. The device was created by TiVo, Inc., a company, not surprisingly, headquartered in the Silicon Valley. The company's founders were veterans of Silicon Graphics and the Full Service Network, a digital video company owned by Time Warner.

TiVo is available in numerous consumer electronic devices, though much of its revenue comes from a partnership with DirecTV's satellite service. The service is currently only available in the United States and the United Kingdom, but a number of ingenious garage-workshop types-–i.e., hackers--have figured out a way to get the devices to work in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the Netherlands. The cable television company Comcast and TiVo reached a distribution deal in March 2005, solidifying the company's financial future. The deal means TiVo will be made available over Comcast's vast cable network.

TiVo systems use sophisticated software to record not only the requested programs, but other material the user is likely to be interested in. TiVo users are also given the opportunity to rate programs favorably or unfavorably--the range is from three "thumbs up" to three "thumbs down." The ratings are compared to content from other programs to detect other shows the user might like.

TiVo constantly records the television programs being watched, allowing watchers to pause, rewind or fast-forward 30 minutes of "live" television. A great number of users start watching a program 10 to 15 minutes after its start time, using the fast-forward feature to skip the commercials. This, not surprisingly, has given the advertising world heartburn, and companies have pressured the company to find some way, any way, of getting their message to TiVo users.

Ad, Damn Ads and Statistics
In response, TiVo's Research and Development workers have come up with a number of innovative-–or frustrating, depending on your point of view–-ways to get users to look at ads. Approximately 1.3 million people use the service. On the whole, the users are a fairly affluent lot, and advertisers would love to be able to get their message across to this high-profile group.

One of these is called "Video-to-Video." This idea lets viewers click a button on the remote, taking them immediately to a three-minute video describing products that might be of use to them. These bits-o-marketing are promoted via small icons that appear on the television screen when viewers fast-forward through the regular ads.

The Video-to-Video ads have created a hue and cry from long-time TiVo users. Many of the complaints come from people who purchased TiVo's lifetime service, who, until recently, were the company's most emphatic boosters. They complain that since they purchased the TiVo system specifically to avoid commercials, the company's new technologies have voided the system's usefulness. In response, the company has said they simply need to increase the company's revenue to survive.

TiVo is also currently helping to develop a futuristic idea of TV-watching known as "telescoping." This allows viewers to get advertising information from a television program, whenever they want and for how long they want, without missing a moment of their programs. For example, if a viewer is interested in a particular car a character in a show is driving, he or she can click on that car and be taken to the manufacturer's website. This idea has its critics, however, who say this impermissibly blurs the line between advertising and programming.

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