No wonder TiVo caused such excitement when it launched in the UK three years ago. Not only would it appeal to the mashed old couch potato in us all, but its facility to whizz through ad breaks at break-neck speed also gave everyone a damn fine excuse to bang on about the death of the 30-second ad.
Last week's announcement that TiVo is limping off these shores, flex between its legs, met with a rather more muted response. Some estimates put TiVo's UK subscriber numbers as low as 5,000, which means it's had more people commenting on the bloody thing than actually bought it.
The simple fact is that, for most of us, TV is a blissfully passive experience; recording all our favourite programmes and then actually finding time to watch them is a little too much effort to make for an activity that many of us still feel rather guilty about indulging in to the extent that we do.
So can 30-second ad advocates everywhere relax, particularly in the light of TV advertising's fortuitous, though relative, cheapness at the moment (see story on this page)? Definitely not, at least if some of the world's biggest, bluest- chip advertisers put their money where their soap boxes are. When Steven J Heyer, the president and chief operating officer of Coca-Cola, called for greater collaboration between marketers and content providers last week, he was very clear on one particular point: "Where are we going? Away from spots in pods."
So where's he going to? "We're moving to ideas that use celebrities to illustrate, enhance and extend the values that underpin our brands." And last month, Coke's rival Pepsi and Nokia signed up to a new US series that binds brands into the fabric of the show's content. Live From Tomorrow is due to air on the WB Network in the summer incorporating logos and products into the programming.
Stitching brands into the appropriate content is not a new idea, but if Heyer pushes through his vision, and others follow suit, the commercial break could be deserted by those very advertisers who have the budget and the creativity to make the breaks interesting enough to sit through. For agencies, as Heyer says: "Your traditional model is in need of a wholesale redefinition."
TiVo sparked a lot of hot air but didn't provide enough of a wake-up call to actually change agency thinking or structures. Now it seems the clients are preparing to do that for themselves and a lot of people are going to have to move quickly to keep a finger in the TV revenue pie.
- Caroline Marshall is on maternity leave.