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TiVo: battered, bruised and bewildered

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A few days ago in one momentary lapse of reason and unbridled optimism, I suggested same ways to save TiVo. Others jumped in with their ideas, some of them quite brilliant. (Salon has picked up on that theme.)

What TiVo needs, says Josh Bernoff, an analyst at Forrester Research who follows the company closely, is a huge ecosystem of users and software developers willing to take a chance on its new features. But that won’t happen if TiVo looks like it’s on the rocks. There’s only one man who can save TiVo now, Bernoff and others say: Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs.

Bernoff gets it half right. I don’t think Apple is what TiVo needs. What the company needs is: open sourcing its entire platform, so that it can attract more developers. If it doesn’t its adios TiVo.

Last week, I caught up with Milo Medin who in past life had helped cobble together @Home, the high-speed start-up. He pointed out that one of the reasons why projects like MythTV are taking off is because they are open source, have a community and are also addressing the market need: features which TiVo can’t roll out (like Internet sharing etc) because its beholden to its network/satellite partners. Mike Ramsey is going to be at eTech, and I hope he gets up and makes a radical enough announcement that attracts more developers to TiVo. They really need to do something fast.

Today the company announced their financial performance, and things are looking. The beloved company of the TiVoted is badly bruised, battered and bewildered. Mounting losses, legal quagmire and its biggest customer DirecTV looking to switch platforms to an in-house technology, things are not looking good for TiVo.

In the first quarter, TiVo expects to post a net loss of $8 million to $10 million on service and technology revenue of $37.4 million to $38 million, surrounding the First Call target of $37.5 million. The company expects to add 265,000 to 300,000 subscribers in the period, with 200,000 to 225,000 coming from DirecTV. [CBS Marketwatch]

The company expects to post a profit in the 4th quarter 2005. Optimistic given that the clock is ticking on them.

10 Responses to “TiVo: battered, bruised and bewildered”

  1. I think Myth TV does precisely what TiVo doesn’t. so today its difficult to use and hard to set up but so was linux till two years ago but today it is getting up there. i think the same will happen here also and in time ease of use and inteface are going to improve and so will the features

  2. I’ve never seen TiVo so I don’t know if what I’m about to describe is what TiVo does,or maybe another product/service does it, or maybe it’s only wishfull thinking on my part. But, what I really want is a box that will record a TV program and then play it back later, on demand, with all the commercials stripped out. Now that’s something I’d be willing to pay for!

  3. I don’t know that an open sourced Tivo would actually make a difference. See, Tivo’s major selling point over the competition is not its unique ability to record video to a hard drive, but rather it’s ability to just work. Tivo doesn’t need better software (granted they need to remain competitive) or hardware but they need marketing, branding, and maybe just a dash of that Apple magic. Do I think Apple should buy? No probably not. It’d probably cost just as much to do the development in-house and would net them little in the way of subscriber base. But my point is “what does tivo need?” and it sure as hell isn’t OSS. Look at Myth. Myth eats. Myth takes a freaking day to set up IF you purchased all the right components before hand. Tivo takes 20 minutes tops. I like open source, but I swear everyone and their brother thinks that open sourcing something is the greatest things since whatever you think the last great thing was. OSS is not INHERENTLY GOOD. I don’t see the rise of Myth (espcially given its past iterations) as enough empircal evidence to support the comparison in the DVR market…

  4. Will, you have summed it up so well. TiVo is clearly facing the “innovators dilemma” and doesn’t know how to get out of this whole mess. good post by the way today on TiVo and PC

  5. I think opening up the source is a truly inspired idea but unfortunately, I rather doubt it will happen. Tivo needs something to change the equation because they’re bleeding cash at an astounding rate and an active open source community managed properly can cut engineering costs, bring new innovation, and create new emotional ties to the company. It certainly would be a bold move.

    I think a move like that would definitely get vetoed by the board, if not by the executive staff. I think successful open source companies have to have that as part of their corporate culture from the beginning, and even though Tivo lives on the linux platform, they’ve kept things very proprietary up until recently. I also think it reduces the chance that some bigger company will acquire them.