Personal video recorders, PVRs, are hot. So hot in fact, they are making a significant contribution in the frying of consumers' attention spans.

What's an advertiser to do when the most affluent customers aren't compelled to watch TV commercials and are, in fact, actively avoiding them?

The problem is so acute former Turner exec Jamie Kellner was recently quoted:

“[Skipping commercials is] theft. Your contract with the network when you get the show is you're going to watch the spots. Otherwise you couldn't get the show on an ad-supported basis. Any time you skip a commercial . . . you're actually stealing the programming."

Wow! And I thought Hillary Rosen at the RIAA was peeved.

Of course, skipping commercials isn't stealing--or we wouldn't have VCRs. So despite Mr. Keller's understandable shoe pounding, marketers are still stuck.

How do we get our messages out to someone who wants to avoid them? Here are some ways we think you can avoid the TiVo (ad-skipping) problem, whether you are advertising on TV now, or plan to in the future.

Banners at Sporting Events

There is a reason sport banners are becoming increasingly more expensive. You can't miss them.

Old-fashioned? Sure. Effective? Without question. The best money spent at this year's Final Four will be the dough dropped on courtside banners. But, you don't have to spend a fortune. Banners at extreme sports events can do just as well with the right target.

With the innovation provided by pixel manipulation and green screens (look behind many home plates this year with Major League Baseball), real-time messaging can be developed in context with the content of the event for maximum impact.

For example, in auto racing a sponsored driver's leadership position combined with the immediacy of a relevant on-track message heightens awareness and leverages the power of the brand. Plus, it won't be missed if the race is watched at a later time.

Owning the letterbox. Cable channels like Oxygen and American Movie Classics are using the letterbox aspect ratio 24/7. This is a win for advertisers fearing TiVo. In the very near future branding opportunities will exist "in the margins." Margins themselves will become more common as HDTV and Digital TV adoption drive more acceptance of the letterbox aspect ratio.

Programming scrawls. Once the war ends, the scrawls populating the bottom of all the news channels may be a remnant that lasts awhile. Scrolls have been quite effective for smart marketers on the Weather Channel in local markets as an adjunct to regular advertising.

Product placements. Much-maligned for its expense, product placement still makes a tremendous amount of sense to us--particularly for big brands. Apple computer is ubiquitous in Hollywood content, and despite massive efforts to the contrary, Apple continues to have one of the most respected brands in modern business.

Long form advertising. Sure “infomercial” is an anathema to many marketers--but not for long. Who hasn't sat in the haze of a few too many martinis and watched far too much “Girls Gone Wild” hype. Hey, I wish I were flying around in my Lear jet (pun intended) shooting cheap footage and making a mint off it. Truth is, long form works. The stigma is gone because sometimes 30 seconds is not enough.

Paid viewing. Paying people to watch your ad? Sound crazy? It's not. If you are testing messaging you're going to pay respondents to help you tune it, why not extend the model? Financial service companies are experimenting with this concept for products that require a high lift of education to build demand. Education is expensive.

Brand-inspired programming. BMW films are probably the best-known example of this kind of programming. We're looking for more of it in the future. Particularly from youth oriented brands. In fact, very soon TiVo will be downloading brand-inspired programming at the request of the customer. Will you be ready?

Lead-in and wholly owned sponsorships. Recently Bravo ran "The Big Kahuna" commercial-free, sponsored by Starbucks. Starbucks ran an announcement at the introduction of the film, binding the brand not only with the film and the enriched experience of a commercial-free viewing, but also with the network itself. That was a very savvy move in our mind--even though the marketing initiative, standing on its own, is exceptionally hard to measure.

Fundamentally, any idea that provides impression delivery around the constraints of PVR's works in today's shortened attention span environment. These are but a few of the ways your message can thrive in a “time–shifted” environment.

Of course, the ferocity around the adoption of ad-blocking technology suggests that marketers find a new way of fostering demand, just as media needs new revenue models to support programming. It is obvious that the effectiveness of the old models are waning, but bridge tactics are required in the near term.

Finally, what‘s been said repeatedly--but still deserves reiteration--is the heightened value commercial skipping puts on creativity. Announcers yelling annoying taglines repeatedly behind dubious graphics for 30 seconds may have worked fine in the past, but is less likely to be noticed in a world where your favorite show is only seconds away. Creative focus must strip the binds of messaging alone and move to the medium itself.

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Tom Barnes is CEO of Mediathink (, a consultancy specializing in media and marketing strategy and implementation. Contact him at