May 28, 2024

TiVo to Display Fast-Forward Banner Ads

TiVo has announced that it will overlay banner ads on viewers’ TV screens when they fast-forward while replaying recorded shows. Many commentators (such as Cory Doctorow) have criticized this move, though Kevin Werbach says it’s no big deal.

As a TiVo user, I’m not sure what to think about this. I would be happier if TiVo didn’t do it, but I’m not surprised that they’re trying to sell the ad space available to them.

There are actually two reasons I want to skip ads. First, I don’t want to wait around while the ad is on. Second I sometimes don’t want to see the ad content at all. (This is especially likely if there are kids around.) If TiVo’s new ads are only shown while I’m fast-forwarding anyway, then they won’t make me wait any longer than I would without the new ads. But they’ll still push the banner ads in my face, which might be annoying, depending on the nature of the ads.

I wonder, though, whether TiVo isn’t interfering with its customers’ viewing more than it thinks. Savvy TiVo users who are sports fans know that there’s a lot of dead time in televised games, even beyond the ads. For instance, fast-forwarding between batters of a baseball game (and between pitches if the pitcher is slow or the batter steps out of the batter’s box) can cut the viewing time for a game in half. Things are still happening during those periods, but they’re perfectly visible on fast-forward. If TiVo starts slapping banner ads over parts of the screen during these periods, this will interfere with the viewing experience.

The biggest question, I think, is whether the introduction of these ads is a single step, or the first step in a systematic redesign of the TiVo interface. The latter would be a mistake. Many TiVo users (including me) have already paid for the service, having bought a TiVo recorder and a lifetime subscription to the service, and they won’t take kindly to any reduction in the quality of the service. And TiVo will face more competition in the future as MythTV gets closer to being consumer-ready.


  1. I actually can’t believe what a bad idea this is from Tivo’s perspective. I would be surprised if they actually implemented it. Sure what may seem like a minor thing to them can have a very large impact in terms of negative attention this will receive from their loyal Tivo customers. I’m sure if Tivo does this it will open up market share to a Tivo competitor or drive people to already alternative DVR choices.

  2. From what I understand, the ads only appear during the commercials. You won’t see anything while FF’ing through football games. A TiVo insider explains.

    I FF at 60X so a one minute commercial lasts one second. Why should I care if a pop-up appears during that one second?

    People are saying, oh, well, TiVo might slow down FF, or they might make the ads appear at other times. Fine; if and when they do that, then we should complain and criticize and cancel. But why charge “sellout” when only commercials are getting popups? Commercial makers already have the power to put stationary images on a portion of the screen so they are readable during FF.

  3. Practical issues are important: has anyone seen how intrusive this new feature is, as it is implemented?

    But theoretical issues portend the future: is Tivo now conflicted in servicing the viewer vs. the advertiser (e.g., will it decrease the speed of the fastforward in hopes of making people watch more of its ads…)?

  4. Josh Meier has a good post on this issue at Copyfutures.

  5. Tommy O'Reardon says

    Like you said in your post I dont think it should matter much to TiVo users because you’re just going to skip through their TiVo banners anyway. But, doesnt it seem like this is a copyright infringement on the part of TiVo by placing their banners on top of the paid commercial advertisements? It seems that if proposed laws (i.e. the newest propsal, HR2391) seek to criminalize simply fast-forwarding then TiVo it just asking for lawsuits with this banner scheme.

  6. TiVo’s slogan used to be “TV your way”. Now it seems to be “TV our way, whether you like it or not”.

  7. Stephen Cochran says

    Nah, it’s real easy to tell when the commercial is over. If you see something other than a crawl on the bottom half of the screen, then you are in a commercial. If a crawl eats the bottom half, then you are back in the program. Simple!

  8. There are all manner of reasons to fast-forward while watching recorded content, from endless human-interest segments during the olympics to musical interludes in Elvis movies. Slapping banners on the screen during these intervals will indeed put a serious crimp in many viewers habits.

    Yet another consideration is that the banners could effectively make fast-forward useless for commercial-skipping purposes on channels that pre-empt any significant chunk of the screen for logos and house ads. If the top half of the screen (or more) is taken up with a banner and the bottom third is given over to crawls and splashes of various kinds, it will take a sharp eye indeed to know when a commercial block is over.

    I’m reminded of the old Outer Limits intro claiming that they control your screen…

  9. OT:

    We always knew it would come to this.