InteracTiVoty: Getting to Know DVR Users - Margret Schmidt - MediaBizBlogger

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At TiVo, we pride ourselves on our user experience. We are a DVR that the entire family can use, and during our design process we think about the needs of those users. We make sure that when a four-year-old wakes up early Saturday morning he can watch "Bob the Builder" without waking Mom or Dad; and when Grandma comes over to baby-sit she doesn't have trouble watching live TV. I've seen too many devices connected to TVs with big "do not touch" signs so that Mom or the babysitter don't screw them up. (This means, of course, that Dad takes the phone calls at work to help those at home figure out how to watch TV.)

Creating intuitive experiences requires that we get into users' heads: that we understand and optimize their tasks; that we watch actual users try out designs; and that we iterate designs based on what was learned. This process is known as user-centered design.

So, if you want to create a wonderful, immersive brand experience for your content or advertising on DVR platforms, you first need to understand who these DVR users are and how they are using the product. Let's take a look at them.

You probably know this part:DVR users want convenience and control - they got a DVR to time-shift TV andskip commercials because they love TV. When they are actively watching time-shifted shows, they pick up the remote and fast-forward through the commercials, and they are thrilled at the idea they can watch an hour show in 45 minutes.

Over a third of them are doing something else while watching TV: cooking, exercising, but most often using a computer. They will usually let the commercials continue to play in the background while they are distracted with their other activities. Interestingly, the ads that users miss most after adopting a DVR are promos for upcoming TV shows and movies.

Having a DVR causes users to watch more TV than they used to, and they think their shows are of higher quality than before they had a DVR. They are more open to new ways to engage with their favorite shows, in between new episodes - think games, minisodes, behind-the-scenes, and commentary streamed via broadband.

But did you know that viewers see a 30-second commercial in about 1 second? Most users fast-forward on their DVRs at 30 times faster than play speed. Some even fast-forward at 60 times faster. Linear commercials fly by in a blur unless optimized for DVR viewing.

To do that, one either needs to dedicate a static area to display a brand message for the entire duration of the spot, or to enhance it with an interactive tag so that users are alerted that there is "something special" about this commercial.

Now, DVR users will go back to watch a commercial they think they will enjoy. My family hits the REPLAY button for all new Jack-in-the-Box or "I'm a Mac, I'm a PC" spots, because we know they're worth it.

Viewers are accepting of advertising when it is within their control, and they like your brand better for it.

Over the years, we at TiVo have increased placement opportunities for advertising. Not only can viewers jump from a 30-second spot to an interactive experience, but we also added placement in the menus, during pause, and at the end of a show. And what's most interesting is that even with the increase in visibility of ads, our customer satisfaction is incredibly high. (92% would recommend TiVo to a friend.)

One reason is that we've never broken the rule that the user is in control. (After all, they bought a TiVo DVR for control in the first place.) We have never forced a user through an ad to get to something they care about. The ad is available, if they are interested. And when they do go in and view the long form video (2 to 4 minutes is best) or request more information, they have increased appreciation for the brands and products they viewed. In our studies, we see users significantly more likely to purchase a product after viewing a TiVo Showcase. They engaged with the advertising on their terms. They were interested enough to go in, and left the experience far more interested than when they began.

Users can't imagine watching TV without a DVR again

There are over 25 million DVRs today, expected to grow to over 50 million in the next three years. Those users who have DVRs have a really hard time watching TV without one. Many of them can't bear to turn on a TV in a hotel room any more.

When faced with the thought of having to give up their DVR, many claim they would give up TV entirely, so horrible would be the thought of watching TV on someone else's schedule and under someone else's control. When asked what they would give up instead, 87% would give up their game consoles and DVD players; 56% would give up their microwaves; and 36% would give up their cell phones -- just please let them keep their TiVos! (Alas, only 3% would give up their cars.)

DVRs are not going away, and advertisers and content providers need to find new ways to engage this DVR generation with their brand messaging.

So what does this all mean?

The 30-second spot needs to provide either a quick brand impression, a hint at a reason viewers should stop fast-forwarding and watch it, or an interactive tag that lets users jump to deeper and more engaging content. Once you've caught their attention, take advantage of the interactive platform. Give them longer video so they can get more information (but don't make it boring or they'll fast forward that too). Let them request more information via email or postal mail. If the ad is a promo for a show or movie, let them schedule a recording, watch a trailer, or buy movie tickets. Above all, keep it easy and fun. Your DVR users are leaning back on the couch, relaxed, and ready to be entertained and informed. Delight them.

Margret Schmidt is VP, User Experience Design & Research for TiVo Inc. Follow her at

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