TiVo Gets it a Decade Too Late


I just read this quote from TiVo‘s CEO Tom Rogers, “I like to think of (a TiVo box) now as a digital video receiver. The idea we’re building toward is, anything that’s out there, from any source, you need TiVo to get it, organize it and make it fast and easy to be able to find it.” He saying this in relation to finally allowing the TiVo to hook in and store audio on a TiVo via Real Network‘s Rhapsody service.

This is like realizing you need to make a right turn at a light you passed several major vacations ago. That trip is over. I highly doubt this will make things right now.

Many years ago companies spoke of the concept of “convergence”. It was a magical word. No one could make it work. The idea was to get consumers to accept a device that would stay in their living room or family room and control all their media in one location. The big catch was that it had to be alluring enough to leave on all day and night. This is no small issue for a lot of buyers. Most people still turn off their PC’s. No one could make anything that buyers would accept and then came TiVo.

By its very nature it only makes sense for a DVR like TiVo to stay on every minute of every day. That’s pretty much how TV works and if you wanted the benefits of a DVR then this would be the trade-off and, thankfully many people decided it was worth it.

Without even realizing it TiVo had reached the marketing promised land.

TiVo put out one strong product after another in the quest to perfect TV viewership. Once they felt that’d gotten within reach of it (but not quite there) they looked out at the horizon and wondered what should be next. Who TiVo chose to talk to I can’t be sure of but I do know that the evidence suggests that a large part of the input came from their own community forums and their own management. Very little info came from typical future customers.

The problem with this is that TiVo management has never been all that great at foretelling the future and forums are notoriously filled with people who are anything but your typical customer. Listening to either to the exclusion of everyone else is a bad idea and it seems that point was missed here. I say this because TiVo’s chosen path was so foolish as to question the competency of everyone involved.

Here you have a box that consumers finally accept. It stores massive amounts of complex data—lots and lots of video. It also does this surprisingly well to the point that seniors unable to set the clock on VCR’s were able to hop right in and use a TiVo. So, when it came time to expand their horizons and support other media types what did they choose? They chose to allow you to view audio and photos via streaming technology.


A TiVo can store literally hundreds of hours of video but when it came time to work with far less complex, far smaller, audio and photos, TiVo thought it was a good idea to invoke streaming….. Think about that. They took these would-be customers and said, “If you want to watch TV, just hit play and you’re set. If you want to listen to a song learn about networking, install server software on your PC, setup of a wireless or wired network. Install a router. Install an access point. Setup a firewall, learn about port forwarding. Then, make sure your PC is on 24/7 too and make sure its setup properly to access all your music. Finally connect to it on your TiVo and with those two devices, plus a stereo, plus the router, the access point and so forth, you can then play a simple song.”

This sounded like a winning concept to them. They embarked on what they called “HMO” for Home Media Option. I tried to point this out to posters on their forums but of course these were filled with kids and geeks who thought streaming was the greatest invention ever and couldn’t possibly conceive of it being an issue for anyone.

When you’d ask them why video could be stored locally but audio and photos required so much extra work, no one had a valid answer but that didn’t stop them from wanting it. The concept that other people wouldn’t be as PC-centric as they were didn’t occur to anyone apparently.

HMO has now been one of the biggest failures of TiVo’s existence. When they released it at a high price only the forum posters and a scant few others bought in. Then the price dropped. Then it dropped again. Before you knew it, it was free and still the masses didn’t care for it.

I kept asking through all of this why TiVo forgot the basics. The TiVo was the perfect media CENTER and yet TiVo forgot this when it came to audio and photos and tried to re-brand it as the perfect media hub in a world full of failed media hubs.

Now Tom Rogers says that the TiVo should be the center. How he still is running things there says a lot about why TiVo has had the rollercoaster ride it’s had. If they’d have realized this ages ago and provided a simple way for consumers to dump all their media onto it (and not by having to link to it via a PC either) then I think they really would have dominated the marketplace. Maybe there’s still hope but I have my doubts.

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