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TiVo to sell data on what people watch

NEW YORK — The company that’s made it so easy for television viewers to avoid watching ads will unveil today a plan to help stations sell them.

TiVo will challenge Nielsen, whose audience ratings provide the basis for most ad sales, with Stop/Watch Local Markets. It will supplement TiVo’s measurements of national TV audiences with data from all but the smallest of the nation’s 210 markets.

TiVo will offer stations, advertisers and program producers year-round, second-by-second information about the shows and commercials watched by people who have one of the company’s DVRs. The anonymous data will come directly from the boxes.

“Imagine a local news department that has to decide where to put the sports and weather and how much time to devote,” says Todd Juenger, TiVo’s audience research and measurement general manager. “Having second-by-second graphs that show when the audience goes up, goes away or fast-forwards is a tremendous new piece of insight.”

Advertisers likely will be the most interested in the data. Nielsen just measures local program viewing four months a year in all but the 21 largest communities.

Information about “who’s viewing the commercial is a big plus for us,” says Kevin Gallagher, executive vice president at ad buyer Starcom USA. “Is it a be-all and end-all? We’ll have to look at it and see.”

TiVo’s sales of audience data supplement revenue from its struggling DVR business. The company has 3.3 million subscriptions, down 25 percent from its peak in early 2007. It would not discuss pricing for the data service.

TiVo’s privacy-protection policies prevent it from collecting important information that Nielsen can provide, including the number of people watching a TV set and demographic breakdowns.

“Our ratings are based on samples that reflect the viewing behavior of all households, not just those who have DVRs,” says Nielsen spokesman Gary Holmes.

Juenger says TiVo owners tend to be richer, better educated “and, unfortunately, a little more white” than the overall population, but “it isn’t a gigantic difference.”

He adds that DVRs will be “the way that most people will watch television in the near future.”

TiVo says its data will come from most of the DVRs that use its service, including ones that get it from DirecTV. It wouldn’t say whether Comcast will participate. Samples will range from 25,000 in the largest markets to 5,000 in small ones. Customers can opt out at TiVo’s website. Nielsen’s local samples range from 400 to 900.

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