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Summary:

If you live in the Boston area, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Comcast DVR with TiVo service had just launched. While highway billboards and newspaper ads tout the “new” offering, in fact it’s been available here for more than a year — and the […]

If you live in the Boston area, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Comcast DVR with TiVo service had just launched. While highway billboards and newspaper ads tout the “new” offering, in fact it’s been available here for more than a year — and the Comcast/TiVo partnership was launched some four years ago. So why the sudden large-scale promotional push? The cynic in me says it’s because Comcast and TiVo aren’t pulling in enough subscribers. But while they aren’t offering usage stats to back it up, the folks at TiVo say it just ain’t so.

“The marketing campaign has certainly increased during the fall and winter, and [this] shows that Comcast has an increased focus on the product,” David Sandford, TiVo’s V-P of marketing and product development, told us. “This is a very important initiative for TiVo, and we know that Comcast is committed to it as well.”

That may be the case, but the fact is that TiVo needs this deal more than Comcast does. TiVo has been steadily losing subscribers; it reported a 163,000 drop in the number of subscribers for the quarter ended Oct. 31, 2008, to 3.46 million. Some of them undoubtedly left because they switched to a rental DVR from their cable company.

TiVo hopes to win over people who are currently using the basic cable company DVRs by offering a superior product. And, let’s be honest, cable company DVRs are an inferior product: Trust me, I know. All too often, they have an interface that’s about as easy to understand as the taxes and fees section of your cable bill. That’s why I think the Comcast-TiVo DVR has great potential. It’s also why I was sad to read some of its early, less-than-positive reviews.

TiVo admits that building the DVR was a challenge, what Sandford called “an incredibly large, complex product development effort.” The challenge was in rebuilding the TiVo platform in a Java application that could run on the Motorola DVRs commonly used by cable, as well as making sure it could run on other hardware in the future.

Still, a far bigger challenge likely lies ahead: Winning over people who are happy with their cable company DVR. TiVo is hoping its name recognition will help convince such people to pay the extra $2.95 per month for the TiVo service. “People are familiar with TiVo. They know we’ve pioneered this space, and they know that we’re the best in the market,” Sandford said. “We’re offering features that you just don’t have in a basic DVR.”

Those additional features include the excellent TiVo interface, as well as Season Passes, Wish Lists, and TiVo recommendations. You also get the peanut-shaped TiVo remote — a definite plus. The DVR also offers an integrated search that returns results from your television programming and Comcast’s On Demand library. Unfortunately, though, you cannot record on-demand content. 

The Comcast boxes do lack some of the features found on TiVo-branded DVRs, though, such as active network connections. That meaas you’re left without the broadband features that TiVo has been adding to its DVRs through partnerships with Netflix, Amazon and CinemaNow, for example.

TiVo says it remains committed to making its own DVRs going forward, but acknowledges that its partnerships with service providers — which also include Cox Cable and DirecTV — are vital to its future. “Ultimately, what we want is subscribers, and the service provider side of our business will generate a larger number of subscribers over time,” explained Sandford. “But our retail business plays a big role, too, because we can innovate there. It enables us to create a more competitive product, and we can bring that to our partners. Our two businesses play different roles, but they have the same goal, and that goal is to gain subscribers.”

I’m hoping TiVo is successful in meeting that goal. This is one company I don’t want to see disappear.

  1. I don’t think TiVo is in any danger of going anywhere considering that they’ve got a couple hundred million in the bank, just posted their first profitable full year and have no debt. Their stand alone sales may be slipping, but that’s a long ways towards the doom and gloom you suggest in your title. I don’t think either company “needs” the other, but obviously this deal is great for both companies as well as their customers.

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  2. Hi Liane,
    As the first Comcast TiVo customer in the greater Boston area, let me say that the Comcast TiVo now works as advertised. There were some rough patches to work out, but from my perspective, I think they wanted to make sure customers had a high quality experience before rolling it out widely.

    Now, the Comcast TiVo works much like the real TiVo. Shows are recorded when I want and the HD quality is very good. It has dual tuners and can record twho shows at once. There have been some problems with the guide where I just couldn’t get future episodes of 30 Rock to record, but that seems to have been cleared up now. There is an issue of not being able to record some shows way in advance and I think TiVo is considering a reminder system of some sort.

    I wish the guide looked farther unto the future. Also, I’d like to have an indicator of how much recording space is left on the Comcast TiVo DVR. Not sure why they can’t provide that. And finally, I’d like to have them allow the addition of external storage devices. That would be sweet.

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  3. Yeah, I’m going to ditto Davis. They’ve got nearly $200 million in the bank and recently reduced their workforce, saving even more cash. They do have a challenge in retaining and attracting customers, but I’m not sure they need saving any time soon.

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  4. Der Prefesser Sunday, March 1, 2009

    Unfortunately, The Tivo service is of little to no incremental value to me, and I can’t see how it could be valuable to any but the laziest among us. Even at $36 a year, I think they’re in deep trouble, especially given the recession. Nonetheless, I wish them well.

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  5. [...] the more that those third-party products die out (though I’m still holding onto hope that TiVo will survive), the less chance there is that anyone, anywhere will be using CableCARDs. So where does that leave [...]

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  6. Well I got the Comcast TIVO service when it was first available for the Boston area well over a year ago maybe two years. I was told that there were bugs so be patient with the “new” service. I had the DIRECTV TiVo and loved it. I left DIRECTV when they left TiVo. I love TiVo. But I am done with the Comcast TiVo. I have 2 HD boxes and have nothing but issues with both boxes. Both have been swapped out twice and an amplifier on my network. I get reboots at random times..not just at night with updates. The dvr freezes up a lot. I have to unplug the DVR and plug in one every couple weeks. Nothing like wanting to watch tv and have to troubleshoot you’re TV after a long day at work. The time changed two days earlier than supposed to (for the DST). I could go on but I will stop. I guess I should have bought a standalone TIVO. Comcast is giving TIVO a bad name. Never had those issues with the DIRECTV version and when I call to complain to Comcast a rep said that TIVO is trash…Of course who knows who that rep is so I guess I take that with a grain of salt. Oh ya to charge me like 40 bucks a month just for the HD DVRs is a complete rip off…had to throw that in there. If Verizon had a faster internet in my area I would switch that day. Love TIVO not happy with COMCAST

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  7. Tivo definitely has a superior product than competing DVR’s it will be a shame if they went out of business. But I have to agree with Freeberg’s comment that Tivo is not going out of business. Netflix, CinemaNow, and Amazon are some of the most popular companies out their, so if they can’t help TiVo nothing will.

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  8. I just tried to order Comcasts DVR+tivo. They had no idea what i was talking about. lol

    maybe that’s why they can’t sell it.

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