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ABC Trying To Thwart DVR Use. The Effort has About As Much Chance of Success as a Chris Dodd Presidential Comeback.

Posted by: David Kiley on February 25, 2008

When we look back at 2008 and what the stupidest idea of the year is, I’m sure we’ll be examining a deal in which the ABC network and Cox Communications’ established an on-demand video service that will allow viewers to watch ABC shows like “Lost” at any time.

The wrinkle is that the service prevents viewers from fast-forwarding through commercials. The service, as reported in The New York Times, has been tested for several months in homes served by Cox in Orange County, Calif. The total number of commercials in the shows would be far less than the over-the-air broadcast version of the show.

ABC and Cox executives said that consumer response to the test had been positive. The move is an attempt to stem the use of DVRs like TiVo, which viewers often use to avoid commercials.

Here is the quote in the Times story from a Disney-ABC executive.
“This does counter the DVR,” said Anne Sweeney, the president of the Disney-ABC television group. “You don’t need TiVo if you have fast-forward-disabled video on demand. It gives you the same opportunity to catch up to your favorite shows.”

Memo to Ms. Sweeney. If you think not being able to ff through the ads is snot a key feature of time-shifting programs on a DVR then you should be treated for whatever illness if affecting your faculties.
Unless the networks are successful in somehow defeating DVRS, people will continue to time-shift their TV watching to not only watch the shows they like at their convenience, but also to avoid ads that waste their valuable time.

This is a dumb idea. Instead of creating a service that is akin to inventing an automobile that goes no faster than a stagecoach in an attempt to save the buggy-whip industry, perhaps ABC and Cox should be channeling resources into targeting viewers through their cable and systems with advertising that is relevant to them.

I hate to sound like a broken record, because I have blogged and written on this point before. But ads in general are not the enemy of the network ad-supported business model. Advertising that is irrelevant is the enemy of your business model.

I’m sitting at home watching, say, American Idol, a Fox show. Ads for Coke, Crest, Olds Spice, GE, Doritos and Mitsubishi come hurling at me during a break. Not one of these products is relevant to my consuming life. If I didn’t time-shift the show on my DVR so I could skip the ads, I would flip over to a baseball game of TCM movie where there are no commercials, read a magazione with the mute button on, or check my e-mail. Now, if you could enter into a deal with the cable companies in which I could opt-in for ads that ARE relevant to me, based on a monthly questionnaire I would fill out online, then I’d be inclined to watch commercials. In my case, that might be BMW, Dewalt power tools, Bahamas vacations, Celestial Seasons Tea.

As long as ABC and other broadcasters pursue a pointless, time-wasting ad model, and DVRs are legal, why on earth should I be wasting my time watching shampoo ads. By the way, I shaved my head a few months ago, so shampoo…not so relevant to me.

Make a note. If I want to watch Lost, I’ll record it and skip the ads on my DVR. This on-demand service Cox and ABC have cooked up seems aimed at people who don’t yet have a DVR, but are lining up to get one. ABC and Cox thinks this on-demand service will make people on the bubble think twice about shelling out for one.

To those people, I have three words—“Time is money.” I can watch a three hour football game in an hour or so, and a two hour American Idol in 50 minutes. A Lost episode can be watched in 40 minutes. Now, that is time that adds up.

Reader Comments


February 26, 2008 6:10 PM

I agree that what ABC is trying to do is probably fruitless. However, ads pay for content. If you want to watch "Lost" then the ads are what allow you to enjoy the show. When DVRs are in a majority of households and commercials are skipped, you're going to see shows canceled. Advertisers are not going to pony up bucks for ads no one is going to see. (As for targeted ads -- few will watch those either. When I am in the market for something -- I check the internet.) Perhaps charge a fee ($2.00 or such) that allows one to watch a show commercial free. Like the cliche says: You can't get something for nothing.


February 26, 2008 6:13 PM

I disagree. I love ABC's website. I use it all the time to watch shows like Lost and Greys Anatomy. My Laptop goes with me everywhere, whereas my DVR does not. I don't like the commercials, but I can live with them if it means I can continue to watch my favorite shows online for free.

Len Taylor

February 26, 2008 6:28 PM

This is a great article and I agree. On Demand is nice (we only get CBS on Comcast). But, if we are forced to watch the commercials, because they are so important, perhaps some of advertising revenue could be used to give us the DVR free of charge. As long as I have to "rent it" then I should be able to use all the features. And if they do adopt my grand scheme, I would also like to odrder a hard drive that can allow me to record more than four shows in HD...


February 26, 2008 8:46 PM

Yes, yes, yes. I am sick and tired of the networks acting like idiots, and trying to push this idiocy on us. It's about as dumb as Blu-ray's BD+ "uncrackable for 10 years" challenge to all hackers. For crying out loud, I don't give a d*mn about Viagra, Cialis, and friggin shampoo... Most of the time, I use services like these as well, because TBH, I don't care to see these ads. Also, if I were to make a suggestion, in-show ads might work better with me, as long as they don't get blatant(I can see the networks going reaaaallly blatant...)

For the record, BD+ was cracked in a month :D



February 26, 2008 9:59 PM

I see your point indeed, but one point you did not bring up is the fact that people who don't subscribe to cable tv and only have internet, can keep up with their favorite shows online.

I haven't had cable in a long time and I love the fact that I can sit down and watch most of my favorite shows without having to pay for a bunch of irrelevant TV.


February 27, 2008 12:56 AM

Truthfully speaking, the invention of DVR has allowed me to watch more TV. My favorite shows have been on FOX, CBS and NBC. I hardly ever watched an ABC show because of time conflicts. But now that I have my DVR, I am watching several ABC shows. So there you go ABC, you have a new viewer, thanks to DVR!!!


February 27, 2008 1:02 PM

"Ads for Coke, Crest, Olds Spice, GE, Doritos and Mitsubishi"

Oh really? You've never used any of those products? What good would ads "relevant" to you be? Advertisers are looking to expand your consumption not tell you about products you already know about.

From Kiley: What I was saying was that no amount of advertising is going to get me top buy these products any more often than I do already. For Coke, I buy one real Coke about once every six to eight weeks as a treat. The rest are never going to be on my buying consideration and I'll never buy a share of GE stock.


February 27, 2008 1:59 PM

You're exactly right. I have Comcast cable and I sometimes rent a movie on demand. Of course I Tivo the feed from Comcast. Why? Because Comcast will only let me watch the movie for 24 hrs and the rewind/ff features suck. With the media on Tivo I can also use the Tivo 2 Go feature and upload it to my computer where I can load it to my iPhone or iPod. I also have the option of using the Amazon Unbox feature in Tivo to rent the same movies, and they’re a dollar cheaper than on Comcast. They also have a built in limit of 30 days to watch and 24rs to finish watching once you start. Plus, because it’s “protected” media, you can’t use the Tivo 2 Go feature. No thank you. AppleTV seems cool but it has the exact same limitations, 30 days, 24hrs. You do get to load it on your iPhone or iPod, but if you download to your laptop, you can’t watch it on the big screen and if you download it to the AppleTV you can’t watch on the laptop, like for a business trip. What? Again, no thank you. Look, most likely I’ll finish watching the movie within 5 days and I probably won’t want to keep it. I’m not trying to steal the movie I just want to watch what I’ve rented when I want and how I want.

do I really want to be limited to 30 days to watch or 24 hrs to finish once I watch. Most likely I'll finish watching the movie within the 30 days or finish watching it within 24 hrs of starting (unless I’ve purposely loaded a few movies for a road trip on the iPod or laptop) but once I’m done, I delete the movies. I need the space both on the Tivo and on my iPhone/iPod/Laptop. It’s not the rules that are the problem; it’s being forced to accept them. As long as the Media companies keep trying to come up with scenarios where they keep as much control as possible, we the consumers are going to keep coming up with way to circumvent it. Just let us download the movie to our Tivo or whatever, watch it for as long as we want, and let us port it to an iPhone or laptop for travel and it's all good. If I buy it, give me the option to save it permanently and burn it to a DVD. Because they treat us all as potential criminals we’re forced to come up with a million was to circumvent the rules. Let us decide how to use the media we rent or buy. Until the media companies get that, they’re going to keep pissing off their consumers.

As for the scenario you’re discussing, I’d do the same thing; just Tivo the on demand broadcast from Cox and watch it later. When I do, you can be damn sure I’d fast forward through all the irrelevant to me commercials.


February 27, 2008 2:12 PM

haha, monthly questionnaire. we can't even get better than 50% voter turnout for the generals man.

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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