TiVo collects a lot of information on user’s viewing habits. You can opt-in fully and opt-out fully by calling their customer service line. The company, rightly so, is very paranoid about keeping this information anonymous and secure. First, because it’s a very valuable asset that competitors would love to have. Second, it would be a PR disaster if the information could be tied back to individuals. Most likely, it would be enough of a disaster to kill the company. However, Tivo has been very honest and open from the beginning about what data they collect and how they intend to use it.
The networks should be able to rely much more on the data TiVo produces than the statistically sampled Nielsen ratings. These ratings are, I am guessing, very susceptible to variation at the low end of the rating scale below the 2.0 rating mark. This makes niche shows (like Buffy / Futurama / etc) and sports (like umm non-World-Cup Soccer) quite unatrractive to the big networks who are looking for the next big audience getter like Survivor or American Idol.
If Tivo’s data can more reliably show the consitency and size of niche programming, along with the valuable demographic data about the audience, these programs are likely to command more ad dollars and get picked up, even if its a cable network. A poster on Slashdot summed it up pretty well.
As usual, there’s a pretty good discussion on Slashdot about this issue. Just filter the comments to score 4 or more.