TiVo ad zapper bound to boost sponsorship deals

The TiVo video recorder is potentially disastrous for television ads. But other sponsorship is likely to thrive as a result

There is a delicious irony in the news that TiVo, the revolutionary new digital video recorder, will be advertised on television. The campaign will promote TiVo’s ability to record up to 40 hours of programming, learn and automatically record viewers’ favourites, and keep track of schedule changes.

But you can bet the advertising will steer clear of TiVo’s real consumer benefit. A staggering 88 per cent of users in the US agree that its ability to screen out the ads is its greatest selling point.

Although the UK version may well be slightly different, the consequences of this for the advertising industry, brands that depend on advertising and advertiser-funded broadcasters are profound. Likewise, the opportunities for those of us lucky enough to be working in sponsorship.

Those advertising agencies that have woken up to the threat of TiVo claim that its impact will be negligible. They will make ads so compelling that viewers will want to watch them.

They speak with forked tongue. It is a fact of life that none of us wants to watch ads. Agency bosses love their channel zapper and fast-forward button as much as anyone. Compelling ads are useless if they are erased before they are seen.

The serious debate about the impact of TiVo-style technology is taking place among brand owners and broadcasters. They know that viewers are moving from being passive consumers to active “editors”, who will select programmes and content over channels and advertising.

Convergence is the watchword of the digital revolution, with advertisers, programme makers and distributors recognising that they are all in the entertainment business.

Broadcast sponsorship, including advertiser-funded programming, will be the dominant currency of the new age. The Independent Television Commission will progressively relax the rules governing these activities as the Government realises the threat to its own pocket. Brand and media owners will aggressively pursue corporate deals with rights owners.

There is nothing new in this. Technology and tastes may have changed, but it is the same thinking that created soap operas in the US. Motor manufacturers are using sponsorship as a Trojan horse to take over Formula 1. Football may grab the headlines, but advertisers and media networks are falling over themselves to buy equity in other sports, music and arts. Sponsorship has come of age.

What is new is that the real strategic expertise that underpins this activity resides in a handful of European sponsorship companies which recognise that their business has always been about bringing brands, media networks and rights owners together.

Our challenge is to move from being identified as specialist hot-shops, to part of the corporate mainstream. Ironically, the sponsorship industry has a huge vested interest in the success of TiVo’s new advertising campaign.

Matthew Patten is chief executive of M&C Saatchi Sponsorship

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