First of all, the title of the article is a little misleading. Duke Professor Carl Mela is quoted as saying that TiVo usages doesn't seem to impact people's "shopping patterns," which is very different from saying that having a TiVo doesn't hurt advertising's impact. The distinction is very important (more on this in a second). I know that one person does not make up a sample, but I know for a fact that because I have a DVR, over the past couple of years I have used my DVR to avoid consuming a massive number of commercials. So even if I am the only person on the planet who does this, there is at least some impact ;-) So why didn't the study show more impact on people's shopping behavior?
Professor Mela cites some potential examples, ranging from the realistic -- that people without DVRs who wish to avoid commercials do so simply by changing the channel or leaving the room -- to the seemingly ludicrous: that when people use the fast-forward feature, they have to pay close attention to the commercials whizzing by so they don't miss the start of their program (and this does what? What's really funny is that I have heard this one before).
While I buy that people who don't want to consume advertising but don't have a DVR device can avoid it in other ways, or simply turn their brains "off" during advertising, I find it hard to swallow that those without DVRs can avoid commercials at the same rate and efficiency as those with DVRs. This study may simply show that television advertising today has less impact than originally thought. If people in the homes with DVRs did skip any more advertising then those without, AND the study showed no relative difference in shopping patterns, it sounds more like an indictment of the current interruptive model of television advertising than an acquittal of TiVo's role in murdering television's revenue model.
But there's another option that I lean toward, which could explain why owning a DVR shows no impact on purchasing behavior: there is no viable substitute to television advertising. This is why I said earlier that it is a very important distinction to note that the study is not isolating advertising effectiveness, but rather "shopping patterns." Sure, maybe people who own a DVRs are watching less of Brand X's television advertising, but as long as Brand X's competitors don't find a better way to reach those people with their message efficiently, television is still the best way to reach the broadest audience in the most engaging manner, so Brand X holds market share. Let's just not kid ourselves that the current model of television advertising isn't less effective for those with DVRs, or that the current, interruptive model of advertising isn't in serious peril.
What this study says to me is that there is opportunity. The opportunity is for content, cable and Internet companies to create new, highly engaging, mass-reach vehicles for advertisers. Because once viable alternatives for advertising are available, those marketers who are early adopters will be able to gain market share on their competitors -- if their products and advertising messaging are good, of course.
Side note. While I admit I have watched more ads on Hulu in the past year than I have watched on my television thanks to my DVR, is adopting television's interruptive model of advertising and throwing it on the Web really the best we can do? I would offer that there are other solutions that will lead to people WILLINGLY spending more time with adverting on their own schedule. Stay tuned.