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Direct Response Marketing

Time Shifting TV Viewers Require Shifting DRTV Tactics

1 Nov, 2002 By: Rick Petry Response

Advertising Age recently reported a new study that suggests nearly three-quarters of television viewers with access to personal video recorder (PVR) technology skip commercials. PVR technology changes the fundamental way in which viewers consume television programming and its attendant advertising. To date, the focus of traditional TV advertisers on these developments has centered on the threats, yet this evolution is also opening up new opportunities.

For those unfamiliar with PVR technology, a hard drive capable of recording up to as much as 30 hours of programming or more resides in a set-top box adjacent to your television. This box can be programmed to capture your favorite shows and, in the case of TiVo, will actually monitor your viewing habits and then serve up programming that mirrors your preferences. In addition, you can pause live television or back-up a program as you are watching it. Perhaps most onerous to conventional TV advertisers is that the PVR remote has a 30-second jump button, making it convenient to skip commercials on recorded shows.

The PVR is creating a stir because it represents a monumental paradigm shift in which the viewer sets the appointment for television viewing rather than the broadcaster, and allows avoidance of advertising. You can appreciate the implications this has for the Nielsen Media Research system of evaluating television eyeballs when those eyes are ignoring the commercials. Lest you think this is some far-removed fantasy, Forrester Research is projecting PVR penetration will reach 42 million U.S. households by 2006.

One of the reasons why PVR technology is so powerful is its ease of use. The ability to accumulate desirable programming is effortless. Imagine a world where a bucket of programming consisting of nothing but cherry-picked content you want to watch is always waiting for you.

In addition, users can navigate 150-plus channels using a remote control and interactive guide that breaks programming down by genres, such as movies, sports, specials and religion. That's where the real opportunity comes for the direct response industry.

How do people find infomercials? One theory suggests viewers who are channel surfing happen to stumble across a paid program with a message that resonates, so they stop to watch. That viewer really has no idea what channel they are watching, but it doesn't matter because each show creates its own audience. Another theory says purchase time periods with high concentrations of a particular demographic or cost-efficient slots and trust that appropriate levels of viewers will go to that network or channel as a destination, come upon your show, and be sufficiently enthralled to tune in and buy.

But if viewers no longer channel surf and media continues to fragment without any commensurate reduction in media rates, how can DRTV survive?

As a first step, the industry, led by the Electronic Retailing Association (ERA), must lobby to have "Shopping" included as a genre on the interactive programming guide of PVRs. With the guide, once a viewer presses "Shopping," they will get a list of all of the home shopping and infomercial programming, by title, listed for the half-hour they are currently in as well as on a going-forward basis. The viewer can then jump to "Turbo Cooker" or program their PVR to record it.

For a considered purchase, the viewer who wants to share a DRTV message with their spouse no longer has to randomly search for an infomercial on Saturday morning. Now they can record "Bowflex" and watch it as their schedule allows. The guide also has a search feature so that a viewer can input "Mur" and, in addition to reruns of "Murphy Brown," get a listing of all future "Murad Skincare" airings.

If "Shopping" is listed on these guides, the ability for consumers to locate long-form programming would no longer be akin to finding a needle in a haystack. Viewers will be empowered to watch programs from beginning to end, to back-up and clarify portions of an infomercial as needed, and to receive a marketer's message in the form that suits their own attention spans.

For marketers, the opportunity to title paid programs and craft their descriptions with new flourishes presents an interesting marketing challenge. The ability to make cross-promotion of airings meaningful would be aided by the fact that viewers now have a way to locate programs in which other marketing communications have piqued their interest. In a sense, it is no different than the way consumers opt-in for information on the Internet, except that DRTV has the advantage of being able to leverage sight, sound and motion.

The time for the $2 billion DRTV industry to act is now, so it is hard-wired into this new framework as more consumers alter their viewing behavior.

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