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TiVO’s Report: Truth Shifting

Before I jump on TiVo for its latest report on how set-top and ACR are changing TV, let’s give them some props for being an innovative brand that changed the game.

TiVo Innovated FTW

TiVO had its moment in American culture- it literally became a verb for time shifting in homes, the standard bearers for what people want, when they want.

And when the “smart set-top box” economy started to grow and innovate with interactive apps (that didn’t get used, RIP EBIF) and greater time-agnostic viewing options from the likes of X1, Hopper — it continued to push innovation and quantum viewing as early as 2012, developing UX aligned with the value and inevitability of omni-platform TV experiences.

And when it didn’t sell enough units because of politics and market dynamics, it did the good old fashioned American thing, it started taking what the market gave it–patent infringement layups. Fine, get yours from the local monopolists.

Good Deeds Started Getting Punished

It stayed on brand as a disruptor by throwing a log into the anti-Nielsen fire back in 2015 when it announced it was giving its viewing data away for free. While Rentrak and other snickered at the attempt to devalue its set-top empire –the move didn’t really shake up the market, in part because it was still set-top data, which is hard to structure alongside other data sets, unable to detect if a TV is on or off, etc.  And like so many good intentions born on the open-source, high aspiration was met with questionable actions by those who make questionable use of free. Example: companies such as Alphonso now pair TiVo’s data with audio ACR obtained by phone apps that  listen in on living rooms.  More on that in another post. GDPR anyone?

Latest Report is Half-Stepping *

When I saw TiVo’s report come out this week, I was impressed with how the company openly admitted the shortcomings of set-top data:

“The biggest problem – and one that limits the number of companies willing to even tackle STB data aggregation – is dealing with the variety of file formats, data structures and levels of granularity,” the report said. 

That is, until I read its take on ACR which was at best inaccurate and at worst intentionally misleading. In particular this excerpt:

“ACR technology enables the tracking of ad units at the individual device level without having to rely upon commercial as-run logs. This allows for faster reporting on ad delivery and more accurate data for addressable TV advertising. Nonetheless, taking advantage of this technology requires advertisers to incorporate ACR-ready watermarks during the production and distribution process.

That bit is patently false. No watermarks are required to generate an ACR ID.  Where did they even get that?

There is also this questionable analysis:

“Vizio is a notable exception, but census-level ACR data availability would require active participation from major manufacturers – and none appear willing to cooperate with others.”

What do you mean major manufacturers? VIZIO has 30% of the smart TV market, and Samsung has 40%. VIZIOs data spinoff, Inscape.tv sells granular screen level data from an opt-in data set of 8.5 million smart TVs. That is a large enough pool to extrapolate to census, no problem. Patching together the long tails does not a census make.

Someone hasn’t read the TVREV special report on ACR!  (password: SmartTV) And sure, call me biased- I am close to and work with iSpot and Inscape — I know the great lengths they go to to ensure accuracy and transparency in providing data the industry can trade off and this stuff gets me annoyed.

And while the TiVo report rightly states,  “It is tough to combine set-top-box viewing data with commercial logs,” the record should reflect the fact that those problems are solved years ago and the market has moved on.

Case in point, iSpot.tv is using ACR to keep a 24-7-365 real time ad catalogue that, combined with Inscape, detects time shifting, OTT and ad viewing agnostic of service provider. And because hundreds of brands have started measuring TV ad effectiveness and connecting ad airings to business outcomes, now networks like NBC are using iSpot and that methodology to sell  based on business outcomes

While TiVO gets kudos for pushing the notion that ACR and new data sets are transforming the TV industry, the company shouldn’t cut corners on reports like that because it only undermines the disruptor, innovator, for the people brand it worked so hard to develop.

Call us TiVo, we’ll help you get back to this: