How Do You Watch Television?

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How do you watch television? Since everyone's writing about digital video recorders, stealth advertising and TiVo's next generation of ad technology, that question made me think about my own viewing habits. First, let me disclose that I have TiVo and don't watch much "live" TV. Most days, I start watching a show halfway through and speed through the boring parts and commercials, getting done in almost half the time. Or, I time-shift and watch it days later. Because it takes less time, I end up watching a greater variety of programming ... and have the potential to be exposed to more advertising. It just needs to be different enough to make me slow down. I'll even replay some commercials more than once: Citibank's identity theft ad with the elderly couple and a man's voice with the faux French accent headed for Las Vegas on their dime comes to mind. "Ooh la la."

David Cohen, senior vice president and interactive media director at Interpublic Group's Universal McCann, told The Wall Street Journal the other day that the jury is still out on whether consumers want to be passive when watching TV "or whether they want to be as engaged as they are with the Internet." For most of us, this hasn't ever been a question - hence the term "couch potato" - though the Internet has changed viewing habits for some age groups, mostly the younger ones.

Companies are desperate for new ad venues. One might be TiVo's new direct response interactive advertising solution, or branded tags, which lets advertisers insert a customized call to action into their commercials. This way when a TiVo user (me) fast-forwards through a commercial, the user (me again) will see an icon on the screen and might stop and click a button to learn more about the company or offer. Already signed up are Ameriquest, E*Trade, Nautilus, Novartis and Tylenol. Sadly, this user hasn't run across one of these yet, but I'm keeping my eyes peeled.

A more entrenched - though rapidly growing - area is product placement, which hit $1.88 billion last year, according to PQ Media. That's up 46.4 percent over 2003. Unlike Donald Trump's "The Apprentice," most placements are so subtle that the average consumer isn't even aware that they're paid for, which has the Federal Communications Commission looking into the issue. A recent story by The Associated Press said, "Beware: Television more and more is shill-o-vision, where commercial breaks still come and go but the commercials never end."

Shill-o-vision. Junk mail. It's nice to know that we're not the only ones with image problems.

Tad Clarke is editor in chief of DM News. His editorial appears Mondays on and in our e-mail newsletter. You can subscribe to our e-mail newsletters by visiting

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