Taking Apart TV Viewing, Second By Second

What did you do during the last five seconds? The same thing as the second before -- but maybe not the one before that.

No matter. Marketers want to track you down in second-by-second increments. It first starts with your TV habits.

TiVo is launching a syndicated ratings service called Stop||Watch, with Publicis' Starcom as its first client. Starcom is also getting second-by-second data from TNS Media Intelligence through the company's TotalView service, which taps into 300,000 Los Angeles-area cable homes.

Some people think second-by-second data is overkill -- that for the money there won't be a lot gained. What will be found? Maybe a lot of unsettled viewers who can't really control the fast-forward button as much as marketers imagine.

In truth, those second-by-second increments will help identity the start and end time of commercials, since rarely do TV spots -- or programs -- start on the exact minute.

Say this for Starcom and TiVo and TNS -- they have exponentially raced ahead of other media in looking for as much granular media knowledge as possible. Nielsen Media Research says its minute-by-minute data service -- sometimes known as commercials ratings -- won't be ready for this year's upfront. And even then, it will only provide information on the average audiences of commercials, not ratings for individual TV spots.



True, the TiVo service will only allow some projection out to the 15 million DVR users, and more accurate numbers for its 4.5 million TiVo users. But it's a far cry from the 110 million households who watch TV, those who might eventually get a DVR.

Indeed, some are already snickering that Starcom could be chasing some future TV knowledge that has no real advantage. But give Starcom credit for trying to work the media room, for additional real media knowledge. Starcom was, of course, one of the first to make deals with cable networks when it came to viewer "engagement."

The real effort is in examining at all that time-shift viewing and the stuff around those pesky commercials. Just what really goes on between those two top-rated shows on Thursdays, "Grey's Anatomy" and "CSI"?

Time to fast-forward into the future. But wait! There are those funny caveman GEICO commercials!

In this world of media fragmentation, every second counts.

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