November 6, 2006 4:00 AM PST

Political ads go up against DVR tech

Christopher Ditty, like so many television viewers by now, is sick of political ads.

The Horn Lake, Miss., resident lives just five minutes from Memphis, Tenn., and is being bombarded with commercials from the two candidates for the open U.S. Senate seat in Tenneesse, Republican Bob Corker and his opponent, Democrat Rep. Harold Ford.

"It seems like there (are) one to two (political) ads every break," Ditty said.

But Ditty now has the technology to fight back: His digital video recorder (DVR), a generic model from his local cable company, allows him to skip through the barrage of increasingly nasty ads.

Fans of DVRs--those from market leader TiVo and its many competitors--have long talked up the freedom the machines give them from all kinds of commercials. Now people like Ditty are finding that the current crop of political spots are the best reason they've ever had to hit fast-forward.

While it's impossible to say just how many people are using DVRs to ditch this year's political message, few doubt, with TiVo's increasing popularity and the growing number of DVR features being provided by cable providers, the political ad refusenik class is growing.

The question is just how much of an impact this tech-savvy crowd is having. While some leading political consultants say they're not worried yet about wasted ad dollars due to such a phenomenon, they acknowledge it's something to keep an eye on in future elections.

"I have thought about it," said Kyle Roberts, the president of Smart Media Group, an Alexandria, Va., political consultancy. "Some of the polling we do, we do ask people if they have DVRs and try to gauge penetration."

But Roberts, who said campaigns across the country have already spent a record $1.2 billion on the 2006 midterm elections, thinks it's too early to worry about a Tivo effect on political ad campaigns. "TiVo and DVRs, in my estimation, have not reached a point yet where they're a problem," he said, "because the penetration just isn't high enough yet."

TV ads work
That DVRs could somehow be changing the way politicians spend their ad dollars may for the moment be wishful thinking among technophiles. According to David Miller, an analyst at Sanders Morris Harris Group, DVRs have a 7.5 percent penetration rate nationwide, with just 8.25 million out of 110 million households having one of the machines.

Fred Davis, who runs the Hollywood political consultancy Strategic Perception, argued that in spite of DVRs and the ability they give users to skip ads, there is nothing like television for spreading the word about political candidates and issues.

"At the end of the day, (even) if you include DVRs," Davis said, "if you include everything, the Internet, radios, there's still not a medium that comes anywhere close to the importance of broadcast television in politics."

"The only sadness is that the fast-forward feature doesn't work on live TV."
--Christopher Ditty, Mississippi resident, DVR owner

But some experts think political advertisers should at least be thinking about the power of the fast-forward button.

"In general, advertisers have started to be concerned as adoption of DVRs increases," said Bruce McGregor, a senior digital home services analyst at Current Analysis. "Election ads would fall into that category if (voters have) seen the same political ads the last month and want to fast-forward through them."

Ditty is hardly alone, of course, in his bid to skip through what he sees as a worsening environment of negative political ad campaigning, even while continuing to watch a significant amount of television.

Larry Rodman, from Brookline, N.H., serves on his town's finance committee and lives close enough to Massachusetts to be saturated with ads in that state's gubernatorial race. He'll sometimes watch normal commercials but has zero tolerance for political ads.

"I generally fast-forward through ads," said Rodman. "However, if I see something that looks like it might be interesting, I usually stop and go back. Whenever I see political ads (though), I just skip through them because I think they're all spin."

Of course, to the political campaigns, TV is a necessity, and even if one segment of the viewing public is turned off by the ubiquity or the nastiness of the ads, there is still a significant percentage that watches. And politicos aren't aiming high. Julie Barko Germany, the deputy director of the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet at George Washington University's graduate school of political management, said political advertisers are only hoping for direct-mail response rates.

"We've known for a long time that people get sick" of political ads, said Barko Germany. "But (they) still seem to do them because they work, they rile up the base and they help with fundraising. They're kind of like telemarketers or (spammers). It annoys the hell out of people, but it's still economical enough."

Interestingly, satellite television services like DirecTV and Dish Network are seen as a bigger problem than DVRs because those services don't allow targeted advertising in local areas, said Roberts, who works on campaign spots for Republicans.

"Rural voters are important to Republicans," he said, "and turning those people out (to vote) is important to our prescription for winning. And in some of those rural markets, the satellite subscriptions are higher than cable."

Nonetheless, to increasingly cynical people like Ditty, the DVR is the best antidote to the "half-lies" and "half-truths" of political advertisements.

"There are times when we aren't paying attention and actually see them and then we remember why we skip them now," said Ditty, who mixes his TV watching between recorded programs and live shows. "The only sadness is that the fast-forward feature doesn't work on live TV."

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12 comments

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I know just how Christopher feels
I'm so fed up with these political ads that I wouldn't vote for either of these clowns.

At this point I've been avoiding watching any local channels with the exception of the programs I record via EyeTV on my Mac. And I spend about 5 minutes editing out all commercials before I watch them.

I'm ready to be governed by 537 people picked at random from any major airport in the country. Screw all politicians.

----

I'm rcrusoe, and I approved this message.
Posted by rcrusoe (1305 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Random?
You should be proud of yourself! But, how can we vote for a random person until we get the random choice on the voting machine? I'm all for it! Woo Hoo!

This message paid for by the committee to elect "random".
Posted by Seaspray0 (9714 comments )
Link Flag
Too Many
There are way too many political commercials on. I live in Memphis, TN and I know how Ditty feels. I fast forward through them myself. Honestly I am also tired of all the automobile commercials. No wonder GM, Ford & Chrysler are loosing money. There advertising budget must be huge. I am so glad for DVR's. I would be happy if there was never another ad on television.
Posted by Shawn Lane (20 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Most negative political ads work against the candidate
For me the negative ads from the Republican and Democrat candidates for tomorrow's election drove me to vote independent in the Texas gubernatorial race (I voted early). Both independent candidates chose not to run negative ads which also influenced my vote.

I have two DVRs in my house, and I bought one for my girlfriend, and use pause and skip often, and I am right there with Christopher on cruising past the political ads.
Posted by cadaver.vitae (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Love my PVR/DirecTV
Living out in the middle of nowhere in Arizona & having DirecTV with the NY & LA channels to watch my network shows...I know more about politicians in those TV markets than I know about the hillbillies running out here. Since the live TV I watch is usually AMC/TCM/IFC (if I do watch live TV at all)...I don't ever see the local Arizona ads & my PVR software cut out the ones which appear from either coast.
Posted by furball123A (124 comments )
Reply Link Flag
30 second skip, beats FFW
I don't know where I would be without Media Center. It's hooked up to my living room TV and the 30 second skip is BEAUTIFUL! It's like a fly swatter, swatting at those pesky and annoying ads.
Posted by bobby_brady (765 comments )
Reply Link Flag
"fast-forward [..] doesn't work on live TV."
If you own a DVR, why oh why are you watching anything live?

If something is appointment or watercooler, we'll watch it the night it airs, but we just start it late so that we can skip the commercials.

The only time I personally watch anything live is while I'm riding the exercise bike before work. But even then as soon as Bloomberg shows a commercial, you just flip down the row to CNN, CNNHN, CNBC, MSNBC, FOXNEWS... rarely will they all be showing simultaneous commercials.
Posted by TV James (680 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I wish ...
Where i live, we had nothing but political messages during the news on two of our local stations. Near the end of the broadcast, they would put in ONE and only one ad for a department store in town.
Posted by BeamerMT (64 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Mute
My mute button works well for this in real time.
Posted by Lord Paul (30 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Even my old vcr works
Mine even picks up start & end of the commercial period (most of the time) and fast forwards to the start of the next programming segment.

If they are only worried about dvr penetration they are naive.
Posted by larryk42 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
MythTV/Linux has Auto-Skip
I use my MythTV (<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.mythtv.org/" target="_newWindow">http://www.mythtv.org/</a>). It's a homemade DVR system that has automatic commercial detection and then automatically skips them. If you have an old ReplayTV you might have seen that feature before. It's great, because I don't even have to see a second of commercials, just uninterrupted television.
Posted by ColeSlaw82 (90 comments )
Reply Link Flag
DVR, VHS works just fine
I am not sure if anyone is aware that even DVR systems require some sort of subcribition where as a VHS recorder dose not.

TiVo requires an internet or phone line to call back home while a VHS recorder dose not.

My point is DVR is the new stuff while the much older VHS has been doing the same thing longer and still has a bigger user base.
Posted by reustle (37 comments )
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