Consumers To Marketers: Fast-Forwarding Through Commercials Means We're Less Likely To Hate You

Fast-forwarding through TV commercials is not only pleasurable for viewers, but good for advertisers.

That's right! Todd Juenger, vice president and general manager of audience research and measurement for TiVo, points to his company's DVR user data and says that fast-forwarding through television commercials is a sign that viewers are engaged with the programming. He suggests that's a good thing for advertisers making such media investments.

Juenger explains: "The biggest, most popular primetime network shows are generally the most heavily timeshifted, and have the most commercial fast-forwarding among the timeshifted viewing. Take February 2009, for example. The top 10 highest rated programs, in terms of total viewership, had 74% of their viewing on a timeshifted basis, and among timeshifted viewers the commercial ratings averaged 30% of the surrounding programs (indicating, on average, 70% of viewers fast-forwarded any given ad)... Compare this amount of timeshifting and fast-forwarding to an average cable network. I chose a typical, fully distributed cable net that averages roughly a 0.5 primetime household rating. For the same month, it had only 46% of its viewing timeshifted, and among the timeshifted viewers, only 52%, on average, fast-forwarded through the commercials."



This work is fascinating and makes a lot of sense. If you're engaged with television programming, you're more likely to prevent commercial interruptions. If you're not preventing commercial interruptions, there's a greater chance your television just happens to be on in the background -- with your attention elsewhere. It's important for marketers to create and plan advertising with this phenomenon in mind.

I really like Todd Juenger's work, even with his perhaps-too-friendly interpretation of time-shifting, meant to appeal to media and marketing clients. But there's major disruption in the mass-media television and marketing industry, and the intensity is picking up. So I'd like to offer some additional, more candid perspective.

As a regular TV viewer, I'd like to remind advertisers of another critical benefit of time-shifting. Specifically, if I'm able to fast-forward through commercials I'm not interested in, the chances of me experiencing cognitive dissonance with the programming or advertising decreases. In plain English, irrelevant advertising and disruptions can be like Chinese water torture. If people have the ability to filter you out if you're irrelevant, the chances of viewers hating you become less -- whether you're the programmer or the advertiser. Conversely, if they like you, they'll have the power to hone in on your offer.

Secondly, if I'm able to filter out commercials I find irrelevant, TiVo and its advertiser clients receive valuable data about me so they can offer me better advertising in the future. Moreover, TiVo has powerful data in which to set a more accurate dollar value for my intentions, desires and overall profile -- which can be extremely helpful for media companies selling potential access to me.

Of course the video arena is getting more complicated. On-demand video via the Internet is getting more attractive, while computers, online video access devices, software, and high-definition television monitors are all merging. We don't need the bundled cable lines and packages anymore, so it's questionable how much we'll need DVRs (and time-shifting) in their still-decade-old format.

However, in the newly connected world of online video and high quality viewing, there's a massive opportunity for navigation, filtering and simplification. We desperately need solutions here -- for media companies, marketers and the people.

What do you think?

13 comments about "Consumers To Marketers: Fast-Forwarding Through Commercials Means We're Less Likely To Hate You".
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  1. Leigh Bingham from Harris Corporation, Inc., July 10, 2009 at 10:19 a.m.

    I'm a serious time-shifter for my favorite shows; I can barely stand to watch the good ones in real time anymore because the commercials seem so interrupty. However, as you note, I AM heavily engaged, and tend to pay very close attention to my fast-forwarding. It isn't uncommon for me to stop the FF and rewind if I notice a favorite commercial (or interesting promo) speeding by.

  2. Mike Patterson from WIP, Inc., July 10, 2009 at 10:22 a.m.

    Maybe advertisers should start producing super-slow-mo commercials that, when fast forwarded, run at actual speed?! A genius idea in the making here I think... The message comes across super slow at regular speed and people will watch it over and over to see what it looks like when fast forwarded...someone give me trademark rights on this one!

  3. Max Kalehoff from MAK, July 10, 2009 at 10:49 a.m.

    @Mike Patterson: I like that concept a lot! "Optimize your television commercials for TiVo with super slow motion". Brilliant!

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, July 10, 2009 at 11:07 a.m.

    Annoying is worse than irrelevant. Hearing a commercial while doing something else can catch one's attention which just happened. I have yet to see the commercial, but I keep buying the product. Yikes!

  5. Monica Bower from TERiX Computer Service, July 10, 2009 at 12:33 p.m.

    Marketing is very often about leading the charge in the opposite direction from conventional thinking or preconceptions. This is a brilliant, "freakinomics"-worthy example; excellent piece, as usual, Max!

  6. Kevin Laverty from Verizon, July 10, 2009 at 12:47 p.m.

    I'm with Leigh - there ARE some clever commercials that will make me stop; more importantly is the final comment Max makes. . . basically - just like on the Internet - you can find out more about my tastes from DVR/TiVO stops and begin to deliver customized ads to me. . . That's the future!

  7. Mark Jacobs from Mebox Media, Inc., July 10, 2009 at 1:07 p.m.

    This point “irrelevant advertising and disruptions can be like Chinese water torture” concisely outlines the viewer pain that they are eagerly awaiting to have removed from their media consumption experience. When watching media an engaged consumer does become curious about certain aspects about what is being portrayed (“the video payload”) and at that point an aspiration to learn or experience more is unleashed (“they WANT the power to hone in on your offer”).

    This technology does exist today! The construct around which the technology operates is this:

    – A viewer that has been engaged with a video for more than 30 seconds is interested in the video (INTEREST)
    – The “payload” of the video is it’s ability to cause the viewer to ask – how do I find out more about “that” (CURIOSITY)
    – If the curiosity is strong enough, an action, or ASPIRATION is acted upon from the video player – but not while invading the video experience
    – At this point of aspiration a TRANSACTION occurs – either commercial or otherwise payload related.

    This construct is in keeping with cognitive process, behavioral preferences and entertainment consumption preferences. The supporting technology has been tested in small groups and is currently being implemented in the documentary related market.

  8. Matthew Quint from Columbia Business School, July 10, 2009 at 1:38 p.m.

    Nice piece, Max. I've got a professor who thinks that TiVo's data, and insight analysis from it, can probably make them more money down the road than their consumer subscriptions.

    Experiments like @Mike Patterson is talking about have already been done (one example from KFC a few years ago -, but probably have only had mixed success so far or they would be more prevalent.

  9. Richard L from LW, July 10, 2009 at 3:20 p.m.

    2 opposing thoughts on this.
    1. doesn't this argue that a forward thinking cable company should start mining the data and start taking advantage of their ability (assuming they have it) to monitor whats going on with the PVR and deliver huge value to advertisers through effective targeting?
    2. who is going to build a PVR that just skips (sight unseen) commercial so we don't even see them at 5x the speed?

  10. Max Kalehoff from MAK, July 10, 2009 at 4:36 p.m.

    @richard l: 1. Yes, the data are huge opportunities. 2. A DVR that enables viewers/customers to fast forward programming is one that will build more loyal viewers. Otherwise, viewers will go elsewhere because more access choices are coming. Moreover, as I mentioned, DVR is less purposeful, if streaming and on-demand becomes more prevalent...which it is.

  11. Gregory Wilson from Red Ball Tiger, July 10, 2009 at 5:12 p.m.

    Here's a slightly different take on it. People are not skipping commercials per se, they're skipping interruptions (which just happen to be commercials). If we fixed the actual problem - interruptive nature of the advertising - perhaps more commercials would be watched. How many would need to be watched? According to Todd Juenger, 70% of viewers fast-forward any given ad. Which means we would need a 30% opt-in rate. That's too high. But, according to TiVo data released in December of last year, 90% of DVR users almost always, or always, fast-forward through commercials. If this is true, we'd need a 10% opt-in rate. Slightly more possible. But what's most important, is because viewers self-select commercials for relevancy, once they opt-in, they should spend more time with the brand. Time-spent versus fewer impressions. A possible and necessary trade-off as control continues to shift to the viewer.

  12. Mickey Lonchar from Quisenberry, July 10, 2009 at 5:30 p.m.

    I agree with Greg. If viewers are "engaged" with anything while skipping time-shifted commercials, it is the fast forward button. My fear is that studies like this will start us down that slippery slope of counting time shifters the same as real-time viewers, which all of us know they aren't. Producing "super slow motion messages" (that would basically take 30 seconds to tell a 7 second story...without sound) isn't the way for advertisers to score with time shifters. The killer app may be to alter the way the medium manipulates paid messages. Limit inventory. Encourage longer ad units (60-90 seconds or longer). And above all, limit the inane network cross-promotions that make you want to pull out your fingernails. A similar approach has worked in radio, could be the way to go on TV.

  13. Michael Senno from New York University, July 11, 2009 at 12:05 a.m.

    Great piece that proves how valuable and interesting the data available can be - yet how underutilized it is. Think about it, almost every digital cable user has a smart STB in their home capable of collecting this data...and so much more.

    @mike_patterson - interesting thought. My perspective has actually been to find a way to make a memorable impression when fast-forwarding, similar to those old comic flip books, where you flip through all the pages fast and it shows an action. That, and finding better in-show product integration opportunities, or adding pre-roll to some video, like Internet.

    The other thought, as a few Internet places are trying, allow users to decide what type of ads they want served, engage them in the process, just like you engage them with the show.

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