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What open source can learn from TiVo

Can the way people view television ads tell us something useful about the open-source software industry?

No one watches commercials anymore, right? In particular, 18-to-34-year-olds hate ads and will do anything to quash them, right?

It turns out these and other TV myths may be just that: myths. As The Wall Street Journal reports, researchers are discovering that the nature of the show and how soon after it airs publicly has more to do with ad-watching behavior than one's age group:

One evolving theory: that advertisers should pay more attention to people's viewing patterns than to their demographics, such as whether they are a twentysomething or a male. Fans of the NBC Universal show Heroes, for example, whether they are 18-year-old men or 54-year-old women, generally tend to watch the show the same way--often clicking through ads...

So far, commercial ratings show what advertising executives have long suspected--about 3 percent to 15 percent of an audience changes the channel during commercials or fast-forwards through them, while teens and older people tend to skip commercials slightly less than viewers aged 18 to 34. In general, the closer viewers watch a show to its original airtime the more likely they are to watch the ads.

Probe the open-source world and you'll find much the same. Certain types of customers tend to pay for support, for example, and some pay more than others. As the TV industry is doing, figuring out who buys what and when, I believe, is the secret to unlocking huge pent-up value in the software industry as we reach for new models for monetizing the adoption of software.

I've written before, for example, that Alfresco's top source of customers comes from those who download our documentation. This is somewhat counterintuitive because this group is apparently self-supporting. They're downloading documentation, so that they don't have to pay for support, right?

Perhaps. Or perhaps it reveals a type of customer who recognizes a need for help as well as a desire to maximize the value derived from the software. Such customers may be looking for information that covers the outer boundaries of what's possible with the software and engage with us when they realize a live engineer is better suited to that task than the printed word.

Or perhaps there's another reason. I spend a fair amount of time scrutinizing our marketing automation system to see what people were reading on our Web site before they bought and to see if there are commonalities. I'll report on this once I have something concrete to share.

At any rate, the answer is out there in the data. We just need to find it.