PVR Owners May Be Forced To Watch Commercials

By Ken Liebeskind

Hundreds of thousands of Personal Video Recorder (PVR) owners enjoy the ability to fast-forward or time shift over commercials while they're watching TV. But all that could change if ACTV implements technology that blocks the time shifting of commercials.

It has been reported that ACTV developed the technology, but the company admits it's reluctant to implement it, because consumers will likely be up in arms. Many buy TiVo and Replay TV PVRs because they can fast forward past commercials.

Meanwhile, television advertisers seek the technology because they are critical of PVRs, which "undercut their ability to market their products and threaten the entire economic structure of ad-supported TV," according to Mike Paxton, a senior analyst at Converging Markets & Technologies, Scottsdale, AZ.

ACTV, a New York firm that develops interactive television software, including One to One TV, HyperTV and Spot On, developed a new program that uses a special code embedded in commercials that prevents the ad from being skipped over. Art Cohen, ACTV's senior VP of advertising, says, "We haven't decided if we're going to implement it, or exactly how."

He also says the software could perform another function more acceptable to consumers by displaying an animated pop up with the advertiser's message while the fast forwarding continued. "It could be more palatable to consumers," he says.

It would obviously be difficult to introduce the software since it would face stiff consumer opposition, but Paxton says, "Manufacturers that make the machines might get pressured by the advertising industry." He says major TV networks and media companies, including CBS, NBC, Disney and Time Warner, have invested in TiVo and ReplayTV. Advertisers have also been involved in partnerships with the PVR companies, he says.

The issue has been compared to the one involving radar detectors, which speeding motorists use to avoid the police. "It's a great example of the chess board strategy that surrounds new products like PVR," Paxton says. "As soon as a new technology is introduced that threatens an existing business model (like Napster), you can be sure people are hard at work developing a counter move."

- Ken Liebeskind may be reached at kenrunz@aol.com