For marketers, TVs act as priceless sets of eyes
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But some industry executives have criticized Nielsen’s methods as outdated.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.