US digital video recording specialist TiVo is about to launch a research division selling data about how its 4.4 million users watch commercials — or, more likely, skip them.

The data accrues from an analysis of the second-by-second viewing patterns of a nightly sample of 20,000 TiVo users, whose recorders report back to TiVo on what was watched and when. Or not watched!

According to TiVo vp for audience research Todd Juenger, DVR- users on average spend nearly half their viewing time watching programs recorded earlier. And viewers of those recorded shows skip about 70% of the commercials.

Juenger believes the new research service can help advertisers understand how to persuade more viewers to watch recorded commercials, for example changing the content of ads or running them during certain kinds of programming.

He cites one study for an unnamed consumer packaged goods company which found that commercials featuring animal characters, when shown on animal-related programs, were skipped less often than usual.

Opines Greg Johnson at Interpublic Group's emerging-media lab: "We are still in the early stages of what works and what doesn't work with video recorders. Getting better data will help marketers make better decisions."

But Andrew McLean of MediaEdge:CIA is snooty about the initiative: "TiVo doing a small thing here, or someone else doing a small thing there, doesn't give us a better and more broad form of measurement."

TiVo ceo Thomas S Rogers is optimistic that the new venture will help build bridges as well as revenues. He hopes the data on offer will help placate those marketers angered by TiVo's role in helping viewers avoid advertising.

Data sourced from New York Times; additional content by WARC staff