TiVo is apparently moving farther into Nielsen territory. Specifically, it’s launching local-market measurement this summer, which is itself uninteresting except to network affiliates, advertisers, and the hardest-core TV ratings geeks. But the bigger issue is that TiVo is continuing to creep into the ratings business, having already launched a national service in February 2007. It’s always made far more sense for DVRs to do the work once relegated to “Nielsen families,” whom the company chooses at random to stand in for the entire population. (And as my coworker Tim Stack has repeatedly asked, “Do you know anyone who’s a Nielsen family?” Who are these people?) Granted, Nielsen has made strides in measuring stuff like DVR usage and even minute-by-minute commercial viewing. But TiVo measures every move all of its users make, which just makes more sense in this technologically advanced entertainment age. There’s no doubt how many people have viewed a given YouTube clip; it seems absurd that we don’t have that kind of accuracy for ratings, which determine which shows live and die.
But don’t count Nielsen out just yet. The old faithful TV ratings service is still the only game in town when it comes to demographics. TiVo’s system is, and will remain, anonymous — which also brings up the little matter of Big Brother syndrome. How do we feel about TiVo, even anonymously, recording users’ every move and zapping it to some database? (That’s already been happening to some extent, mind you — this local move can just slice it into smaller pieces and, well, give us an excuse to reflect on this some more.) Another issue when it comes to demographics: Clearly these numbers will skew strongly toward folks who can afford not only a DVR, but a TiVo-branded DVR. That’s a very, very specific audience, no matter how big the sample is. As a Nielsen spokeswoman said in response to TiVo’s plans: “We don’t know anything beyond what has been written in the press. From press accounts, however, it seems clear that Nielsen offers an entirely different kind of service. Our ratings can be used as currency because they are based on representative samples that reflect the entire community, not just a subset of DVR users. Our ratings also provide value to buyers and sellers of ad time because they provide demographic breaks.”
What do you think, PopWatchers? Would you rather see networks make decisions based on TiVo ratings than Nielsen numbers? Do you mind knowing your viewing habits are being tracked? Do you want TiVo users determining what lives or dies?