Tots, Teletubbies and the Future of TV Measurement - Jonathan Steuer-TiVo

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In late 2002, when my older daughter Josie was about 10 months old, she uttered her first sentence: "'Mote 'Tubbies!" This sentence was accompanied by a frantic pointing gesture at our 32-inch Sony Trinitron, and for those who don't speak small-child, translates to "Use the TiVo remote to put on Teletubbies right now or I'm going to have a screaming fit!"

A couple months later, Josie was playing at her friend Raphael's house. His family had the same 32-inch TV we did, so Josie logically assumed "'Mote! 'Tubbies!'" would work here too. Upon the family's inability to instantly bring Josie's favorite Teletubbie, Tinky Winky, to Raphael's DVR-less entertainment center screen, the inevitable screaming fit ensued – despite and during my best attempts to explain time-shifting and the entire concept of broadcast television to a precocious 14-month-old.

Josie is 10 now and heading to middle school. Time flies! Now she and her younger sister Maxine regularly watch TV in single-show units. On school days, the maximum allocation is "1 TV" – meaning a single episode of a single show, played on whatever devices is most convenient. Phineas and Ferb is the current fave, but they also branch out a bit into Raising Hopeand the various flavors of Top Chef.

Last week, Top Chef Texas didn't record as scheduled. It's one of the shows we watch together as a family, so when I was unable to coax any of our household DVRs to cough the show up on demand last Thursday, both kids were sad. I asked Josie about it and she commented, "I was wondering if the TV was broken. It wasn't recording the show I wanted, even though I know it should have been there on that day." [Note that both girls are typically long asleep before Wednesdays at 10:20, the earliest we'd consider starting to watch Top Chef on the day new episodes first air. Note also that I ended up buying the episode on iTunes so we could watch episodes in sequence.]

Admittedly, not every current pre-teen believes that a TV is "broken" if it can't play what they want when they want it – but we're clearly headed in that direction. Yet, as an industry, we're still more worried (as measured in research dollars) about tweaking our existing "currency" than we are about whether the entire business model under which we've been operating has a future.

How do we shift momentum toward measuring complex current and future media universes that used to be just plain "TV"? As much as I might wish otherwise, having a screaming tantrum is not going to do the trick. But a plausible first step is to stop bickering about whether Live-Plus-Same-Day is a better proxy for actual viewing than C3, or fighting religious battles about census- versus sample-based research. Instead, we should save some time and energy to step back and think about what it is we're really supposed to understand – how people interact with media – and how that issue relates – on a broad level – to our current and future business environment. Achieving this will benefit everyone in the media ecosystem, even little Josie.

[I'm the new guy at TiVo, so if you've heard parts of this rant from me before in one of my past lives, just ignore it and wait for my next blog turn.]

Jonathan+Steuer

Jonathan Steuer recently joined TiVo as Vice President, Audience Research & Measurement, where he leads TiVo's efforts to develop innovative new media research products. Jonathan can be reached at jsteuer@tivo.com.

Read all Jonathan's MediaBizBloggers commentaries at InteracTiVoty.

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