TiVo is watching you watch TV. The high-tech company hasn't turned a profit yet, but executives are hoping that selling marketing data about its customers' viewing patterns will help limit the red ink. The data could also send a tough signal to the advertising industry.
The San Jose-based company can collect detailed viewing data on its 700,000 subscribers because its device is basically a computer that stores TV shows on a high-capacity hard drive. More than a high-tech VCR, TiVo allows viewers to pause a live telecast, do their own instant replays, and skip commercials. The technology also builds a database of television favorites.
TiVo's data will be the closest thing television has to the detailed "hit" statistics available on websites. TiVo insists subscribers' privacy will be protected, but the company plans to sell a quarterly report listing customer viewing habits during certain times of the day. Advertisers and broadcasters can also buy customized data about which programs are popular-and which ads are ignored.
Families using the technology in part to protect their kids from raunchy ads will also be sending a message that advertisers will find difficult to ignore: tone it down or be tuned out.