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And Now, No Word From Our Sponsor

Sunday, December 26, 2004; Page F05

Okay, so television commercials aren't extinct yet. But they are an endangered species. And this year, TiVo made it official.

In November, the company that first introduced consumers to digital video recorders -- DVRs, which let viewers record hours of programs, pause live television and, yes, skip ads -- announced that by March its customers will begin to see "logos" whenever they fast-forward past commercials. The logos would offer them various enticements, such as contest entries and freebies, if they will only, please, stop to view the ad.

The logos are like ads for, well, ads.

In its attempt to salvage the 30-second spot, TiVo is trying to stuff a genie back into a bottle it uncorked in the first place. According to Forrester Research, owners of TiVo and other DVRs spend 62 percent of their time in front of the tube watching recorded television. During that time, they skip 92 percent of commercials. Technology trumps the old-fashioned bathroom break.

But advertisers spend about $50 billion a year on television advertising. As DVRs proliferate, advertisers realize they are paying more money for fewer eyeballs.

About 5 percent of Americans own a DVR. But Forrester estimates that figure will grow to 41 percent within five years. Advertisers will have to figure out other ways to reach consumers. After all, TiVo is only giving people what they want.

-- Annys Shin

© 2004 The Washington Post Company