PVR users skip most ads: study

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New research into the controversial phenomenon of personal video recorders finds users skip commercials 72.3% of the time-a much higher rate than those watching live TV or those using videotape recorders-but they are least likely to pass over a beer or drug spot.

The research, from CNW Marketing Research, Bandon, Ore., finds that users of PVRs such as TiVo and Replay TV will skip over a beer spot only 32.7% of the time. Drugs are the only other category out of 14 measured in the study to keeps the attention of more than 50% of PVR owners.

"From the research we found that beer ads had high entertainment value," said Art Spinella, VP-general manager at CNW. "Drug ads were something else. Think of it as the hypochrondriac in most of us who are looking for a magic pill to resolve a medical problem or cure some real or imagined illness."

CNW Marketing Research is primarily known for its automotive research, and the study was done mainly to learn about viewer habits in the automotive category. While its methodology was not designed to be definitive for other categories, the results may offer a window into the still-new world of PVRs, a worrisome area for advertisers concerned about avoidance of commercials.

The skip rate, CNW found, is indeed high. The 72.3% figure for PVR owners rejecting commercials well outdistanced that for viewers fast forwarding through commercials on videotape (15.6% of the time) and those who "ignore" commercials on live television (44.6% of the time). The research characterizes "ignoring" live TV as getting a snack, starting a conversation or taking a bathroom break.

Top categories where consumers fast forward through commercials with PVRs include fast food, credit cards, mortgage financing, home products and TV network promos for upcoming shows, all of which were rejected by consumers 90% or more of the time, the study showed.

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Some TV executives believe the high turn-off rate in those categories is related to poor creative in commercials. "How many times do you need to see a Burger King commercial?" asks Roy Rothstein, senior VP-director of national broadcast research at Zenith Media Services, jointly owned by Cordiant Communications Group and Publicis Groupe. "It's pretty straightforward. You don't have to watch through the whole commercial."

National automotive ads were skipped by PVR owners 71.3% of the time, more than that of feminine-product spots, avoided 64.1% of the time. A major turn-off for PVR owners was TV program promotion. This category ranked third overall in consumers' fast forwarding. For live television, according to the data, 74.2% of consumers avoid TV program promotion, the worst retention of any category for live TV.

Beer was also the best performer when it came to live TV-only 4.4% of the time did consumers ignore beer commercials. "It's all that sex in beer commercials," said a longtime TV research executive. "They are also entertaining," said Mr. Rothstein.

Overall, commercials on cable fared a bit better than network with PVR users. But in the top turn-off categories of fast food, credit card, mortgage financing and home products, the numbers were virtually on the same level as for network-run commercials.

For the study, CNW surveyed just under 10,000 consumers by phone in seven markets during May. The markets-Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York and Atlanta-were selected for their wide demographic mix, location, and other factors.

Total sample size broke down this way: All surveyed were over 18; 8,146 people watched live TV, 1,159 were included in the videotape measurement; and 944 were PVR owners. The survey is part of a larger TV interactive study with a total sample in excess of 18,000.

Since the survey was conducted primarily for the auto industry, CNW wasn't terribly scientific was in deciding what categories should be surveyed. Mr. Spinella said 14 different categories were decided as a result of discussions with CNW staffers.

For instance, telecommunications wasn't listed; nor were movie companies. "I bet movies would rate high-consumers would want to watch them," Mr. Rothstein said.

He added that that he's concerned over the survey's methodology. "It's a little bit loaded," he said. "You are only measuring part of their viewing habits; you are not looking at overall viewing pattern."

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