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As citizens of the modern world, we have long ago ceased complaining that the marketing-advertising machine is overly intrusive. We have become used to the idea that we will be constantly surrounded by billboards and plasma screens from cradle to grave, and that they would try and use our insecurities and aspirations to make us buy still more monitors to watch still more adverts on.
Our first line of defence was to simply ignore everything around us that wasn’t other people, moving vehicles, lampposts and open manholes. This worked for a while until advertisers came up with the idea of pop up advertisements, those annoying flashes of music and color that demand that you spend at least 10 seconds of your life hunting for a small ‘x’ somewhere on your screen.
Are we forever doomed to have adverts taking an increasingly prominent role in our lives?
TiVo to the rescue?
As far back as 2001, every TV commercials company in the land was beginning to worry about the arrival of TiVo, the Digital Video Recorder (DVR) device that allows users to fast forward past the advert breaks. In 2007 it was estimated that around 17% of US households owned a device.
Finally, some of us whispered conspiratorially to each other in dark alleyways, there was a way of fighting back against the rising tide of advertising in our lives. Slowly, people would stop watching TV advertising and use the 15 minutes per hour they had gained to work together towards world peace or space exploration.
This view was flawed for two main reasons. Firstly, advertisers are a crafty lot, and pop ups show us that they will always find ways of getting our attention. Secondly, it is disputed as to whether TiVo and DVRs in general are actually hanging consumer habits.
Has there been a ‘TiVo effect?
There have been a wide range of scientific and academic studies into the effect that TiVo and other DVR are having on TV advertising, and the emerging consensus is that the effect is so far actually pretty marginal.
According to a research report by Duke University, around 95% of people still sit through TV commercial ad breaks.
So what are the possible reasons that can be given for the DVRs lack of impact upon our behaviour?
Firstly, it simply comes down to the type of person you are and your own personal feelings towards advertisements. While most people don’t mind watching adverts, there is a small fraction of us that feel an almost aversion to them. It is worth remembering that not having a DVR in no way inhibits these people from leaving the room or flipping the channel.
Secondly, even if you do fast forward past the adverts when watching a TV show, you still have to be physically looking at the screen to know when to stop fast forwarding. This means that, no matter how briefly, you are still being exposed to the adverts.
Thirdly, and most importantly, the number of people who own TiVo and other DVR devices is completely outweighed by the increase in the number of people watching TV. Since 1998 when the first DVR was released, TV viewership has increased 21%.
Basically this means that whatever dent is being made in TV advertising viewing is being more than doubly made back by the sheer number of new viewers. For a more technical explanation, see here.
So I guess the moral of the story so far is that not only are most people content to live with an increased amount of advertising in their lives, but they will continue to watch it even if given the opportunity not to. It is also likely that TV advertisers will find some way to interact commercially with DVRs, such as the ‘my TiVo gets me’ ad campaign launched a couple of years ago.
But for now, if you are like me and want to skip past TV adverts, just be happy that you are in such a small minority that you are unlikely to be bothered for a long time yet.
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