The TiVo Effect

People have far too much to say about the TiVo, but I noticed one effect that maybe nobody else has. I have 2 DirecTV decoders, one is attached to the Tivo in my office, one is in the family room just playing live DirecTV on the big XBR2 with surround sound. I discovered what I call The TiVo Effect, it happens when 2 different people watch the same show, one on TiVo and one in realtime. For example, I’m on pause in the office, the show has buffered about 50 minutes ahead because I was watching something else. I start watching the show, sometimes I pause and go into the other room for a minute where someone is watching the final scenes of the show, and I have to avert my eyes and get away or I’ll get a spoiler. Sometimes I do see a spoiler.
I tried to talk my sister into getting a TiVo but she wouldn’t hear of it, since it records and reports viewing patterns. She objected to paying a subscription fee for the privilege of having TiVo watch you. She has a point.
But the battle for metrics has moved to another plane. Arbitron is testing new media ratings metrics collection systems. They intend to insert inaudible watermark audio codes into programming, to be collected by a pager-sized device that listens and records any watermarked audio within earshot. It can tell what TV or radio station you’re tuned to, and perhaps can even detect when you’re listening to watermarked CDs. With a little GPS technology, they can see if you’re sitting still or moving around in your car listening to the radio. They can collect an audio profile of what you see and hear, and where you were when you saw or heard it. They want more information about what media you encounter outside the home, mostly ratings for commercials. It is like every media you encounter will have a bar code, and you are the scanner. And the Arbitron people want to hand these out, have people wear them and plug in at night and upload all the data. It reminds me of Rudy Rucker’s "Dreamland," everyone plugs in the socket behind their ear at night and dreams the social subconscious, through computer mediation. We’re teaching the computer what is in our field of consciousness.
But one thing I have noticed, in years of working with measurement systems. When you develop a method of documenting a system’s performance, and make management decisions based on that documentation, the system somehow adapts to looking good on paper, to the detriment of its performance in the real world. People become more concerned with how their ratings look, than whether or not the measurements actually are measuring anything real or useful.

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