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Why Technology Isn't the Problem

11 Mar, 2003 By: Holly J. Wagner

There's a lot of brouhaha surrounding personal video recorders (PVRs) like TiVo and Replay TV. They are probably the closest thing to true video-on-demand (VOD) because they store your favorite shows automatically and let you play them whenever you want, with all the control features of a DVD like fast forward, pause and rewind. Plus you can skip commercials. It's no accident that TiVo users are very loyal.

This terrifies broadcast television executives, who are watching their revenue base erode before their eyes as people figure out how to skip past ads. The TV minds are doing their best to thwart this, with tactics ranging from lawsuits to a technology that digitally changes brand labels on items in existing shows to a pending variety show that hearkens back to the age of sponsored shows like Texaco Star Theater.

Advertainment is nothing new, although we are seeing some of its earliest manifestations return to the market. Strawberry Shortcake was a creation of American Greetings, conceived in the Reagan era of deregulated broadcasting to sell a line of greeting cards, figurines and manufacturered collectibles. In fact, Saturday mornings in the 1980s were a time slot given over almost entirely to advertainment. The airwaves were populated with cartoons promoting everything from Rainbow Brite and the Care Bears to their antithesis, G.I. Joe.

Movies are next, with a unit of Peter Guber's Mandalay Pictures called Mandalay Branded Entertainment actively shopping industrialists to finance advertiser-supported features for TV and theatrical release. From a branding standpoint, I guess that kind of melds ball park/event sponsorship with filmmaking. But it's going to have to be seamless, or most people will tune out.

And even with all this technology, people will find ways -- sometimes decidedly low-tech -- to filter out what they don't want.

A while back at Broadband Plus I remember chuckling when one of the cable executive panelists talked about the lengths to which people will go to get rid of crawlers and icons on their TV screens. She described people who put sticky notes on their TV screens to cover the translucent digital channel ID icons or duct tape across the bottom to eliminate crawlers.

While that seems a bit goofy, it illustrates a point that major studios and TV networks have yet to grasp: no matter how cool you think your advertising technology is, people who don't want to see it will always find ways not to watch.

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