TiVo to Deliver Detailed Viewing Data to NBC

Under a new deal, TiVo will provide NBC with second-by-second information about its subscribers' viewing habits, which the TV network can then share with advertisers. Andrea Seabrook talks with Wired magazine editor Nancy Miller.

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

You've heard of the Nielsen's ratings, the minute-by-minute analysis of TV viewing patterns that advertisers use to gauge their audience. Well, now, TV networks will be able to analyze what you watch on a second-by-second basis. NBC and two media research companies signed deals this week with TiVo, the maker of the popular digital video recorder or DVR.

TiVo will give NBC and the others access to its stopwatch metrics. In other words, they can now tell what people are watching and what they're fast-forwarding through, like, say, commercials in any given second.

With me now is Wired magazine editor Nancy Miller. Hi.

Ms. NANCY MILLER (Editor, Wired Magazine): Hi.

SEABROOK: Nancy, first, I just want to take a quick moment to get us all up to speed here. The TiVo and the other DVRs are devices that record television and allow you to watch it later. And so when you're watching it later, you can skip all the commercials if you want to. This has been a problem, obviously, Nancy, for advertisers. Since it's come out, they can't tell what ads people are actually seeing.

Ms. MILLER: Yes. TiVo was the pioneer. They developed this technology about 10 years ago. Their whole initial strategy was forget advertisers. We're going to show consumers a way of beating the system and fast-forwarding through commercials for a better viewing experience.

SEABROOK: So how does this new service NBC and others are buying from TiVo fix this problem for advertisers, or does it?

Ms. MILLER: TiVo is trying to solve the problem of the decrease in advertising in networks. TiVo is offering stopwatch as a way of getting data on a granular level. So before this, the system was, say, Nielsen. And Nielsen's ratings system worked on a minute-by-minute level.

Well, in a current world we live in, it is crucial for advertisers and networks to know at what second - 10 seconds, one second, two seconds = how much are their consumers watching. And that's what they need to know. And at what point are they fast-forwarding through their ads.

SEABROOK: But I don't expect that NBC would go back to advertisers that essentially pay for the network programming and tell these…

Ms. MILLER: Yeah.

SEABROOK: …advertisers that people just aren't watch your commercials.

Ms. MILLER: They can't avoid it anymore, and I think that this is what NBC is recognizing. So I think they're getting ahead of the problem instead of just trying to pretend that it's not an issue. They are using TiVo and this partnership to be able to analyze the data and help in that way.

SEABROOK: Nancy Miller, a day after the NBC deal was announced, TiVo struck deals with companies called Carat, another one called Nero. All of this seems to require the massive collection of data on viewers. And what does this mean that TiVo, for example, knows about us?

Ms. MILLER: TiVo is giving viewers basically two options. Their stopwatch feature is 20,000 people, their identities, they swear, are strict. So that when the data goes to these companies, it's anonymous. They know your - or how much you make. They know how - what your gender is, your age and your ethnicity. However, they don't know your name and where you live per se. But they know what city you lived in.

SEABROOK: If someone is worried about privacy, for example, is it even possible anymore to avoid having information about them collected?

Ms. MILLER: Well, if you grow your own food and you, I don't know, make your own vinyl with a LAVE and two things, that you never use the Internet and you never watch television, sure.

SEABROOK: Nancy Miller, editor for Wired magazine. Thank you so much.

Ms. MILLER: I hope that was helpful.

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