For mar­keters, TVs act as price­less sets of eyes

The Hamilton Spectator - - BUSINESS - SAPNA MAHESHWARI

While Ellen Milz and her fam­ily were watch­ing the Olympics last sum­mer, their TV watched them.

Milz, 48, who lives with her hus­band and three chil­dren in Chicago, had agreed to be a pan­el­list for a com­pany called TVi­sion In­sights, which mon­i­tored her view­ing habits — and whether her eyes flicked down to her phone dur­ing the com­mer­cials, whether she was smil­ing or frown­ing — through a de­vice on top of her TV.

Milz ac­knowl­edged that she had ini­tially found the idea odd, but that those qualms had quickly faded.

“It’s out of sight, out of mind,” she said, com­par­ing it to the Nest se­cu­rity cam­eras in her home. She said she had ini­tially re­ceived $60 for par­tic­i­pat­ing and an ad­di­tional $230 af­ter four to six months.

TVi­sion — which has worked with the Weather Chan­nel, NBC and the Disney ABC Tele­vi­sion Group — is one of sev­eral com­pa­nies that have en­tered liv­ing rooms in re­cent years, emerg­ing with new, gran­u­lar ways for mar­keters to un­der­stand how peo­ple are watch­ing TV and, in par­tic­u­lar, com­mer­cials.

The ap­peal of this in­for­ma­tion has soared as Amer­i­cans rapidly change their view­ing habits, stream­ing an in­creas­ing num­ber of shows weeks or months af­ter they first air, on de­vices as var­ied as smart­phones, lap­tops and stream­ing de­vices, not to men­tion TVs.

Through the in­stal­la­tion of a Mi­crosoft Kinect de­vice, nor­mally used for Xbox video games, on top of par­tic­i­pants’ TVs, TVi­sion tracks the move­ment of peo­ple’s eyes in re­la­tion to the TV. The de­vice’s sen­sors can record minute shifts for all the peo­ple in the room. The com­pany matches those view­ing pat­terns to spe­cific shows and com­mer­cials us­ing tech­nol­ogy that lis­tens to what is be­ing broad­cast on the TV.

“The big thing for TV ad­ver­tis­ers and the net­works is: Are you ac­tu­ally look­ing at the screen or not?” said Dan Schiff­man, chief rev­enue of­fi­cer of TVi­sion. “What you looked at is in­ter­est­ing, but the fact that you looked away is ar­guably the most in­ter­est­ing.”

He founded TVi­sion, a 30-per­son startup, with a class­mate at MIT.

Com­pa­nies spend around $69 bil­lion per year on TV ads in the United States and are keen to find out how to best dis­trib­ute that money in a frac­tured me­dia land­scape. Nielsen and its panel of 42,500 house­holds have long de­ter­mined how money is spent on TV ad­ver­tis­ing in the United States. The higher a show’s rat­ings, the more net­works can charge for ad­ver­tis­ing.

But some in­dus­try ex­ec­u­tives have crit­i­cized Nielsen’s meth­ods as out­dated. Nielsen se­lects homes at ran­dom to rep­re­sent the na­tion’s view­ing au­di­ence, and mea­sures who is watch­ing what shows, mostly through me­ters con­nected to the sets, as well as di­aries in select mar­kets and dig­i­tal track­ing of cer­tain ad-sup­ported pro­grams on tablets and phones.

“Nielsen will re­main the cur­rency for the time be­ing be­cause it is agreed upon as the thing ev­ery­one uses,” said Alan Wurtzel, an ad­viser at NBCUniver­sal and its for­mer head of re­search. “But as the world be­comes more com­plex, as it is, many more ad­di­tional sup­ple­men­tal or com­ple­men­tary mea­sures will come into play.”


Tvi­sion’s Dan Schiff­man shows how soft­ware tracks a viewer’s eyes and facial ex­pres­sions, pro­vid­ing de­tailed in­for­ma­tion about their view­ing.

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