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Google teams up with TiVo to give advertisers a clearer picture

November 23, 2009 |  9:01 pm

Google TiVo Google and TiVo have been responsible for a good deal of anxiety within cable and network television circles. Put both together in the same sentence, and you have the potential need for some serious psychotherapy.

Yes, the two Silicon Valley companies are teaming up. Google, which sells television and online ads, today said it agreed to subscribe to TiVo's user data.

Here's where the fear and loathing come in. Google promises that advertisers pay only when their ads are seen. But TiVo lets viewers fast-forward through commercials. Now, with TiVo's data, collected from millions of digital video recorders across the country, Google can tell exactly which of those commercials are being bypassed. If all the commercials are being skipped, the channel gets no money. It's easy to see why TV executives get heartburn over this.

Google currently has an agreement with EchoStar to sell ads on its Dish Network and collect similar data from the satellite TV company's subscribers.

Information is the stock and trade of Google, which distinguishes itself by its ability to tell advertisers how often their ads are seen. On the Internet, that's a relatively trivial trick to tally up "clicks" or "impressions." But that's harder for television.

"In general, the feeling is that TV needs more accountability for the audience it is delivering to advertisers," said Todd Juenger, vice president of TiVo's 4-year-old audience research business, said in an interview. "Right now, TV is kind of fuzzy. It is such a powerful medium, but it suffers from a lack of tools to measure its impact. We help to provide those tools."

Today, the 800-pound gorilla is Nielsen Co., whose TV show ratings determine how much networks can charge for ads on certain shows. But Nielsen focuses on how many people watch a given show.

Google, however, wants second-by-second feedback on whether people are watching ads and who is watching them. Through its deal with EchoStar, Google already processes more than 1 billion channel clicks a day to determine whether a client's ads are seen, at least by satellite TV customers.

"Now we have TiVo data to add breadth and depth," said Mike Steib, director of emerging platforms at Google.

Steib and Juenger are cautious to add that the data are "anonymized," so Google and advertisers cannot trace viewing behavior back to any individual.

They also argue that networks have little to fear. About 3 in 10 companies that buy TV ads through Google have never advertised on TV before, Steib said. "Our system makes it easy for people to buy TV ads," he said. "We're lowering the barriers to entry, which has the effect of growing the market."

Juenger delivered a similarly soothing message: "More and more marketing dollars are being directed to Internet and search largely because of the accountability those mediums offer. If you are confident that you’re getting what you’re paying for, you’re more inclined to pay. To the extent that we can do that for TV, that ought to stimulate demand."

In this economy, TV executives are likely to embrace anything that stimulates demand. Even Google and TiVo.

-- Alex Pham

Follow my random thoughts on games, gear and technology on Twitter @AlexPham.

Image courtesy of Dan Hontz.

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