iVo is coming soon to a home near you. The Yankee Group has predicted that within three years, one in five Americans will own TiVo or some other brand of digital video recorder (DVR). Whether you are among that 20% or not, the DVR trend will likely have an effect on you and your business.

To make a long story short (something TiVo was invented to do), DVRs allow consumers to a skip portions of programming they don't want to see. And, for the most part, what they don't want to see -- I hope you're sitting down -- are commercials.

There can be as many as 20 minutes of commercials in an hour segment of television, and with TiVo, a viewer can, at 9:20 p.m., begin to watch a show that started at 9 p.m., and by skipping the commercials finish up at 10 p.m. -- just as the program is ending in real time.

Not surprisingly, those who sell television advertising are freaking out.

Or rather, most are. The rise of DVRs seems to affect every area of television advertising except beer and prescription drugs.

According to CNW Marketing Research, beer commercials are so entertaining that viewers actually want to see them, and prescription drug ads are so informative that viewers feel compelled to watch them.

It means, however, that travel ads are being TiVo'd over. That has industry marketers scratching their heads. The macro trend in travel marketing over the past nine years has been away from intermediaries and toward consumer direct.

If video advertising becomes less effective because fewer and fewer people watch it, will intermediary sales channels begin to look more attractive as a means to reach the public?

Not necessarily. Airlines already are making overtures to agents, and many other travel companies that advertise heavily on television, such as cruise lines and all-inclusives, are already strongly committed to agency distribution.

But all sales channels may benefit in another way. As traditional television advertising execs feel heat from DVRs, they are exploring other means to use television as a commercial medium.

In a separate phenomenon, the blurred line between advertising and entertainment has reached new heights. It started with simple product placement, but today, paid-for embedded brand promotion has made its way into prime-time scripts and story lines.

As an example, one of the sponsors of the reality show "The Restaurant" is American Express, and one of the "real" characters on the show turns to Amex's small business units to help him solve a business problem.

It's useful to remember that the granddaddy of all embedded product campaigns was a travel-related program: "The Love Boat."

And though it ceased production 18 years ago, Princess Cruises is still reaping the benefits -- just last month, the actress who played the fictional daughter of the fictional Captain Stubing was named godmother of the Caribbean Princess.

When brands are knitted into programming, all sales channels benefit, along with the brand. And unless a character says, "Don't bother going online or calling a travel agent to book -- just call (800) 555-1212," there is no distribution chain bias.

I predict it won't be long before we see yet another development in the world of television advertising: Advertisers paying other advertisers for product placement. If viewers are still watching beer and prescription drug ads, I can think of a dozen travel products that would pay to serve as the setting for a Budweiser commercial -- and even a few that might want to strike a deal with the makers of Viagra.


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