To make TV commercials far more targeted than anyone has ever dreamed of, Google and TiVo are now teaming on a deal in the US that gives companies buying ads through Google's TV Ads division access to "second-by-second" TV viewing data collected by TiVo's home digital video recorders (DVRs).
If TiVo can be trusted, the individual privacy concerns should be minimal. TiVo will turn over only "anonymized," aggregated data about TV viewing behaviors.
But still, the ability of advertisers to tell whether a commercial is doing what an advertiser wants it to do could reach an unprecedented level.
Traditionally, TV networks have charged companies for TV ads based largely on Nielsen Ratings showing how many viewers a TV show attracts. Nielsen also breaks out its data into demographics.
Only a few weeks ago, Google TV Ads reached a deal with Nielsen to layer Nielsen PRIZM lifestyle data such as "lifestage," income, social group, home ownership, employment, and education on to demographic and interest data already available in Google's ad tools.
Now, with the addition of the TiVo data, Google and its customers will also be able to tell how people behave on a "second-by-second" basis when an ad comes on -- whether they fast-forward through a commercial, switch the channel, or leave all or only part of an ad running, for instance.
Admittedly, data like this isn't always that meaningful. For example, when viewers leave a commercial going all the way through, does that mean they're actually watching the ad, or is simply leaving it on while running to the kitchen for another bag of chips?
But from an advertiser's perspective, it must be useful to know that at least people don't find the ad so boring and annoying that -- in the aggregated sense -- they want to escape it by grabbing the remote and switching to a different station three seconds into the TV spot.
The deal with TiVo also propels Google's two-year-old TV advertising arm into an entirely new competitive league. Only nine months ago, an article in BusinessWeek openly questioned whether Google TV Ads would even stay in business, following Google's decision to ditch its earlier forays into radio and newspaper ads.
Back then, Google Ads had lured only a handful of major advertising clients, including Lenovo, Jenny Craig, Priceline, and Buy.com.
Only paltry numbers of relatively small TV broadcasters were using Google's services, such as Dish Network, Bloomberg TV, Hallmark Channel, and NBCU cable channels like CNBC, Chiller, and Sleuth.
But at this point, if traditional broadcasters don't catch on to the potential inherent in the TiVo deal, I'd say there's a good chance that more video ads -- and video content -- will be moving onto the Internet, a place where advertisers could find it easier to use the Google TV Ad platform.
TV set-top box manufacturers might possibly forge similar deals with Google, too. Roku, for example, recently expanded beyond traditional TV offerings to offer content from the Internet-based Netflix, along with Amazon On Demand.