Time-Shifting the Ad Industry: Tom Rogers, President and CEO, TiVo
Tom Rogers, a well-rounded media executive, has had his work cut out for him at TiVo (TIVO), the iconic but often-struggling pioneer and leader in the digital video-recorder market. Before coming to TiVo, Mr. Rogers was chairman and CEO of Primedia, which publishes 200 magazines, operates more than 400 Web sites and runs a wide range of television and video businesses. Previous to that, he was president of NBC Cable and executive vice president at NBC, as well as its chief strategist. While there, Mr. Rogers helped found the CNBC business cable channel and established the NBC/Microsoft cable channel and Internet joint venture, MSNBC. He also worked in politics, as senior counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Telecommunications, Consumer Protection and Finance Subcommittee, and has previously worked as a Wall Street lawyer.
- Tom Rogers’s interview is prefaced by a video introduction clip from “The Simpsons.” In it, Keith Olbermann accuses Marge Simpson of being a content thief for using her TiVo to watch TV without commercials.
- Kara welcomes Rogers to the stage. She recalls being at the TiVo pitch meeting “with a bunch of dumb dot-com guys,” notes that she felt it was a huge idea at the time but hasn’t proven an easy business for the company.
- Rogers begins by recalling his time at NBC and how his last act at the company was to make it an investor in TiVo.
- What was TiVo when you arrived? Rogers says there was a view that it was a great device with a lot of potential. I looked at that as a student of the broadcast and cable industries, he says, and thought that we couldn’t succeed as an island apart from those industries. We had to work with them, even if TiVo was initially viewed as a means for consumers to take power back from the TV industry. We had to weave TiVo into those industries.
- Kara insists that the major concept behind TiVo is really skipping commercials. “I can pause TV and go to the bathroom and skip the commercials when I come back.”
- Rogers, it seems, would prefer to refer to that as “giving consumers control of their TV experience,” rather that what it really is.
- Kara circles back: “How do you get rid of this image of TiVo as a content thief?”
- Rogers finally answers: “We went to the TV industry and told them that it was ‘game over’ in terms of people watching commercials. We told them that there was one thing we know about our users: They fast-forward through ads. So what can we do?” The answer, Rogers says, is the creation of a new ad model that addresses this. We conceived of a number of solutions for this–ads that appear while users fast-forward, others that appear on the device’s save menu.
- Kara presses Rogers again: “I don’t think I’ve ever watched an ad on my TiVo. … Ever.”
- Rogers dodges a bit, noting that Kara’s just one user. He stresses that we need to get away from the Nielsen notion that whoever watches a show also watches the ads: “We’ve come up with a measurement solution that allows us to tell exactly how many people are watching ads and for how long.”
- And what you discovered was that …. nobody watches ads? Kara asks.
- No, they do, Rogers counters. Clearly, he thinks the Nielsen model is and always was a bunch of bollocks. He again stresses the need for accountability in advertising metrics. TiVo, he says, can offer that.
- So what can you actually tell advertisers about their ads? asks Kara. Rogers says they can tell them what works and what doesn’t work, what shows ads performed the best in and the ones in which they performed the worst.
- So, Kara interjects, what TiVo is really trying to do is to tell the TV industry: Hey, we’re disrupting your industry. Now, can we sell you some data?
- Rogers notes that a great deal of the content recorded to TiVo is broadcast programming. What’s interesting, he notes, is that the highest-rated commercials of the week don’t often appear in the most-watched programs. That’s where TiVo comes in. It can determine what ads work, where they work, and when.
- Rogers talks now about user engagement and interactive advertising. We’ve heard people touting interactive advertising for years, and it’s always failed. Why? Because people don’t want to interact with ads while they’re watching their TV programs. You can, however, engage them in advertising interactions during “pause,” he says.
- Conversation turns to IP suits and TiVo’s recent litigation against EchoStar. Rogers rehashes the whole thing for those of you just joining us … He stresses that the injunctive relief the court has granted TiVo is very far-reaching. So does that mean TiVo’s going to sue more people? Kara asks. Likely, though clearly Rogers isn’t going to admit that.
- What about your relationship with the cable industry? Rogers says TiVo has adopted a “join ‘em” strategy here. He would prefer to provide the industry with its software, rather than hardware. Much easier for TiVo and the cable industry to implement. Compares the consumer experience to that of adding HBO. Just call your local cable company, say “Hey, I’d like TiVo instead of the DVR I currently have.”
- What’s the role of the TiVo box today? Does it still have one? Kara wonders. Rogers says yes. It allows us to talk directly to the consumer. He describes TiVo’s evolution into a content retrieval mechanism–movies, TV, music, YouTube, etc. What works for the consumer is a one-box solution to media. We’ve been building that solution for years.
- Who owns that box? asks Kara. No one yet, says Rogers. But we’re close to it.
- But selling a consumer device is hard, notes Kara. Rogers concedes, but notes that the cable industry is looking for exactly the sort of solution he’s describing. Once someone provides it, they’ll embrace it and drive it forward.
- Kara’s a little incredulous. Rogers notes that the stage is set for just this sort of shift, noting that at this very moment, Comcast is rolling out a TiVo initiative in New England that includes a jointly branded welcome screen.
- How do you look at the broadcast industry these days, asks Kara. The broadcast industry has it within its power to avoid some very dark days, Rogers replies. Whether it will move quickly enough to avoid them remains to be seen. Rogers says the situation is identical to the one that print faced years ago and clearly did not bother to avoid. He seems to think that the broadcast industry is a bit more on the ball than print. Not sure whether it will avoid those dark days, though.
- Q&A: Issue of cable cards? There’s no reason in the world that cable companies can’t send it to you and have you insert it, Rogers says. There’s lots of friction there. But cable companies, he says, are instituting a much better customer experience.
- More options for viewing TV content, such as the PC? “Clearly, there are more ways to watch TV,” Rogers says. “But I have to tell you, when you see the number of flat-screens flying out of retailers, the TV set and its primary position in the home isn’t going anywhere in the future.”
- When is TiVo going to launch in U.K.? I’m hopeful that we can soon, Rogers says.
- What vendors will deliver to TiVo? Rogers says there isn’t a video packager that isn’t talking to TiVo. As for the major players? I don’t have a view of who’s going to dominate, Rogers adds. It’s too early. On-demand model is all that can be forecast for the time being.
A note about our coverage: This live blog is not an official transcript of the conversation that occurred onstage. Rather, it is a compilation of quotes, paraphrased statements and ad-lib observations expeditiously written and posted to the Web as quickly as we were able. It was not intended as a transcript and should not be interpreted as one.