TiVo, Nielsen, ASI Join to Discover Viewers' Habits

What do you watch on TV? When do you watch it? Soon 1500 volunteers will reveal all about their viewing habits as they embark on an unprecedented adventure in "big brotherism."

On July 25, ASI Entertainment, Nielsen Media Research, and TiVo, maker of personal video recorders, announced a joint effort to unearth as much detail as possible about interactive television viewers with a research program called the National In-Home TV Lab. Undertaken with the help of broadcasters and advertisers, the project is intended to help the TV industry understand how viewers are going to use emerging "personal television" services.

ASI and Nielsen have long engaged in marketing research on TV viewers; Nielsen ratings still determine the success or failure of most network programming. Silicon Valley–based TiVo makes a hard-disk personal video recorder (PVR) that allows television fans a new degree of freedom in controlling what and when they watch.

For the project, the research team will place TiVo PVRs in 1500 homes nationwide and monitor their use over an unspecified period. The intention: "to forecast the future impact of personal television on television programming and advertising," according to a press release. The results could challenge commonly held assumptions about the effectiveness of advertising or program planning.

The agreement stipulates that Nielsen Media Research design a nationally representative sample and recruit the households (separate from its television and Internet research samples), and that TiVo provide its services to the homes chosen for the project. Other participating companies may offer suggestions or guidance as the project unfolds.

The ultimate goal, of course, is to find more effective ways to sell more products to more people via TV. "I believe the TV Lab touches on the precise issues that will reshape television," said Jim Spaeth, president of the Advertising Research Foundation. Referring to previous experiments with interactive television, Spaeth said, "There has been a litany of brave but failed attempts with new technology, but this time it seems different. Technology, economy, consumer lifestyles and workstyles, and the conditioning of the general public to the Internet all promise to make this the time it really happens."