Ad zapping across the universe

This is a work in progress for the magazine I edit. I have spent more than a week trying to get an interview with TiVO (to find out if they do any research about the number of subscribers who skip ad breaks) but have had no luck. If you have a TiVO box and you love the ability to zap ads, please let me know!

Here it goes…

This power now in the hands of the viewer to control the
television programming schedule (and thereby skip through ads) is one of the
biggest challenges facing television today. In the free-to-air arena, a growing
number of Australians are using personal video recorders (like TiVO, which was
launched on the Australian market in July last year in conjunction with Channel
Seven). According to Adam Kohler from ABC’s Inside Business, TiVo’s popularity
in the US has resulted in a trend towards product placement in TV shows instead
of traditional ads, because 60 per cent of owners skip them. Fans of Foxtel’s
iQ (which had approximately 450,000 subscribers at the end of 2008) say they
love the ability to start watching a program 10 minutes behind schedule so they
can fast forward through the ads. Then there’s software that enables illegal
downloading. According to Robbee Minicola, who is CEO of TiVo licensee Hybrid
Television Services, ‘One in three broadband customers is a pirate and half of
all BitTorrent downloads are TV shows.’ 

Seven is reportedly ‘exploring options to slow the
ad-zapping possibilities’ and TiVO is unwilling to disclose how many boxes it
has sold in Australia, let alone if any of its market research shows how many people
are skipping ad breaks. 

But not all television networks fear the impact of time
shifted viewing or free downloads on ad sales; at the time of writing, there
had been 145,000 downloads of episodes one to seven of Underbelly: A Tale of
Two Cities
. However, Nine's HIRO video
CODEC means that it’s not possible to fast forward through the ad that plays at
the beginning of each episode. While the first two episodes were ad free,
Suzuki, Tourism New Zealand and Department of Defence ads have run pre-roll on
episodes three to seven. 

An article published in US magazine Adweek late last year
quoted research that showed that when asked ‘What medium’s ads do you go to the
most effort to avoid?’, 28 per cent said television. Internet outpaces all
media with 36 per cent of respondents answering affirmatively. When asked ‘What
media has the most invasive and irritating advertisements?’, the internet again
gets top billing, with nearly 48 percent choosing it. At 27 per cent, TV rates
as the number two most intrusive and irritating medium. However, despite the
arrival of TiVO and iQ in Australia, it’s still much easier to block ads on web
sites.

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