I’ve had a TiVo for almost three years now and like most TiVo users, I am an unconditional fan of the level of comfort it has brought to my TV watching experience. Actually, TiVo did such a great job in terms of functionality and UI that I hardly see any point in upgrading my Series 1 to the newer model.

Recently, TiVo has come under fire after their announcement of a new feature in their box that will display commercial banners during fast-forwards of commercials. The community went up in arms about this announcement and a Tivo employee recently intervened in the forums to clarify the upcoming feature.

This seems to have soothed TiVo’s fans, but I am still wondering why the announcement caused so much uproar in the first place. To me, the main threat to TV watcher comfort is not clever tricks to make commercial breaks more attractive but in-place advertising.

I have alrady seen this kind of advertising several times these past months, among which:

  • During the World Series, a car brand advertising regularly “unfolded” from the scoreboard, sat there for a few seconds and then “folded back in”. This was happening every four or five minutes.

  • Various TV channels have been showing animated previews of their upcoming shows in a banner at the bottom of the screen. Again, note that this animation is happening in the middle of the show you are currently watching (they seem to be coming up shortly after a commercial break ended).

This form is advertising is deadly effective for several reasons:

  • It is shown during your show, and you are not going to fast-forward through it.

  • It is not subjected to the air-time limit that commercial breaks have. I am not sure if this is regulated in the US but even if it’s not, networks need to be careful not to show too much ads during their shows or they will turn off their audience for good. These days, it seems that shows are typically interrupted by four commercial breaks that amount to no more than 15 minutes per hour. In-place advertising has theoretically no such limit…

  • It is animated. No matter how hard you try, your eyes are inescapably pulled in
    its direction

  • It appears to be almost impossible to circumvent, even by clever devices such as TiVo.

This last point is the most distressing, and actually, I don’t believe a DVR manufacturer would even try to circumvent those ads because they need to walk a fine line between pleasing their customers and not angering the advertisers. If you
wander too far on either side of this line, you will either lose your customers in drove or your company will get sued out of existence, a lesson that ReplayTV learned the hard way.

So far, Tivo has been very smart in the various compromises they have made, and I believe this new feature is overall good for everyone. But I confess being worried about the new form of TV advertising
that is discreetly creeping on our TV screens.  Well, that and advertising
in theaters, but that’s another story.