Interpublic Signs TiVo Ratings Deal, No Comment From Nets

On the eve of the upfront, when commercial ratings and viewer-engagement metrics are likely to command a good deal of attention, Interpublic has signed a deal that will give it access to the most granular ratings possible: second-by-second.

The agreement with TiVo (a Nielsen competitor in this case) will allow the holding company's three media entities--Magna Global, Initiative and Universal McCann--to get a sense of how many TiVo users watch spots they buy, or what portion of them, and whether the ads are skipped via commercial-zapping functionality. The TiVo service is known as TiVo StopWatch, and looks to measure behavior in TiVo's estimated 4 million-plus homes.

Although TiVo Stop Watch will not be able to take into account how many people miss ads by going to the refrigerator, it can be argued that the second-by-second data provides a fairly accurate account of what kind of commercial viewing is taking place.

But there's a glaring hitch: The data is culled from a daily sample of behavior from 20,000 TiVo units. That's a considerably smaller sample than the Nielsen national pool, and TiVo users are believed to be more upscale and early-adopter-types. They are not necessarily a reflection of "typical" consumers, even those who use the generic DVRs provided by cable and satellite operators.

As early-adopters, TiVo users may even be more aggressive commercial-skippers than their counterparts, since they have been using the devices for some time and are familiar with its capabilities. That was one of the arguments put forward by NBC research guru Alan Wurtzel last summer--after TiVo said it would launch a second-by-second service. "[TiVo users are] going to be the ones with the most extreme behavior, whether it's "I never watch live TV; I never watch a commercial,'" Wurtzel said in an interview last July.

The executive, who has been vocal about NBC's willingness to negotiate in the coming upfront based on engagement metrics, was less than bullish back then on the TiVo data, saying he believes Nielsen--which will provide commercial ratings data next month and already offers minute-by-minute tracking--is more accurate. Wurtzel also questioned the TiVo data's lack of demo breakdowns.

The TiVo sample provides daily data from a random sampling of behavior from 20,000 anonymous TiVo users, but doesn't offer stratified information as to what members of different demos are doing. It does offer tracking on "live" viewing--and separately, "time-shifted viewing"--as well as commercial ratings, providing information on commercial-skipping when a program is watched outside its broadcast window.

An NBC representative said Monday the network is "evaluating the data." Fox declined comment. NBC and Fox would not comment on whether they had purchased the TiVo data. ABC and CBS did not immediately provide comment.

Starcom has also signed on to purchase the StopWatch service. CEO John Muszynski said at an industry event in March that he hopes to do at least one or two test deals in the upfront where second-by-second guarantees are employed, although he did not name the data that would be used.

"The data provided by [TiVo] will start to provide us with the ability to help our clients better understand today's DVR-enabled television viewer, so we can refine our creative and media-buying strategies as DVRs proliferate," said Larry Blasius, executive vice president at Magna Global, in a statement. "It also ... will help us determine the dynamics of commercial pods built up from seconds, compared to those limited to minute data currently available from Nielsen."

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