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How TiVo Can Get Its Groove Back

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Things have not been going well for TiVo (TIVO) lately. The company released its latest quarterly results at the end of August, and guess what: People just don’t want to pay up to $17 a month for a box that records TV if their cable company offers them the same thing for a third of the price. TiVo only gained 41,000 subscribers last quarter, compared to 74,000 in the same quarter last year. They also lost another 350,000 DirecTV (DTV) subscribers because the satellite provider doesn’t carry TiVo anymore. And an unexpected inventory write-down charge saw the company’s second-quarter net loss more than double.

It really seems like there are only two options left for TiVo: Either become an IP shell company that lives off of the patent licensing fees other DVR distributors will likely have to pay to TiVo soon and let your own subscriber base slowly bleed to death, or finally become innovative again, and change the rules that define our collective TV experience one more time.

Here are a few unsolicited ideas for TiVo to get back on track:

Open up the box. TiVo has done some exclusive deals with a few select video podcasters to feature their content on the company’s DVR. Users can subscribe to these shows and watch them on their regular TV. That’s a great start. But why doesn’t TiVo just open up the box for every video podcaster? Sure, there are some minor technical challenges, but every serious podcaster offers more than one file format anyway. TiVo could even help to monetize podcasts with custom commercials and sponsorship deals.

Get a better online programming guide. Here’s something that your generic cable box doesn’t offer: TiVo users with broadband access can program their recorders through the company’s Web site. Unfortunately, the site still resembles the listings in TV Guide, making me browse through tons of channels that I don’t care about at all. Learn your lesson from personal start pages like Netvibes. Just give me access to the stuff I want. And please, don’t restrict it to the channels I’m getting from my cable company. Show me what’s on HBO even if I don’t have HBO –- and then let me buy shows a la carte through Amazon Unbox.

On second thought, make that: Become the ultimate programming guide. Feature TV channels, video podcasts, Unbox and maybe even Joost programming, and then link to multiple sources to get the content. Show users what’s streaming now on, and then give them the option to save the same shows in HD and without commercials to their TiVo with one click. Trust me, there is really no better advertisement for a DVR than a mediocre Web-stream that gets interrupted ten times by the very same Glad trash bag commercial.

Get on the social Web. Make widgets. Get a Facebook app. Give your users social networking options from directly within TiVo –- anything that makes them show off and discuss what they are watching. People love to talk about TV. DVRs have taken away from that conversation by liberating us from schedules. The fact that you don’t have to watch Heroes on Monday night anymore also means that you won’t be talking about it on Tuesday morning. TiVo can revive that water-cooler talk by bringing it online and connecting together fans of the same show.

Unbundle cable. You know why people stopped watching television? Because they don’t see the point in paying $60, $80 or $100 per month just for the privilege to get Weeds and Dexter. The solution? Team up with Showtime and compete with the Comcasts (CMCSA) and Dish Networks (DISH) of the world. Offer day-to-day access to popular shows through Amazon’s (AMZN) Unbox and bundle it with the TiVo subscription fee. Paying $17 a month just for your DVR service is crazy, period. Paying $25 for TiVo plus a select package of Showtime shows delivered via broadband through Amazon Unbox, on the other hand, is reasonable –- especially if it saves you a bunch on your cable bill. This is probably the riskiest move, because the company might anger allies and licensing partners. But does TiVo really have that much to lose?

25 Responses to “How TiVo Can Get Its Groove Back”

  1. Mark, I’m with you there! I never really just sit down to see what’s on any more (which I used to) – I am too much in danger of being deluged with aforementioned crap. I only watch when I know something I definitely want to see is on. Send me a mail if you want an invite :)

  2. As others have noted … What TiVo has is a large installed base and a strong presence in the living room…

    Lots of people have tried and are failing to get a box into the living room . TiVo is already there . Now is the time to push out media centre capabilities on that box .. With Unbox integration .. you can buy movies directly. But what about the movies I have on my PC. The music has been integrated, Now is the time for video integration.

    And seriously TiVo, why are you still trying to sell subscriptions ? Subscriptions is why I hate cable… Find another way to make revenue .. seriously.. Take a look at apple tv as a guide …

  3. I’m shamefully biased, but I laugh everytime I see the sports version of the “My Tivo Gets Me” ad.

    If my Tivo really “got me”, it would start recording anytime the Yankees went into extra innings, a ranked college football team was about to be upset, or there was a pitcher with a no-hitter through 7.

    The RUWT? API ( would do a better job of getting Tivo’s groove back than Taye Diggs could ever do.

  4. Interesting to see your comments about the online programming guide. Exactly as Shrug says, it is very difficult to just get exactly the programmes you want and make sure you catch all of them – amazing that there is so much content online and on TV, and systems like TiVo supposedly making viewing so easy – yet still it can be so difficult to find what you want to see.

    I’m part of a team behind a new film and TV search site in private beta, LocateTV, which we hope to be the Google of film and TV. It allows you to search for content on TV, online and on DVD, specific to your region. Booking to PVR is one of the future features on the roadmap and it would be interesting to see if you think the combination of a site like LocateTV with a booking system like TiVo would be a better solution than how it works now.

    You can see what we’re up to at locatetvblog and send me an email ([email protected]) if anyone fancies a private beta login – I’d love to know if any of you think think this could be one solution to this problem.

  5. Tivo has top stop in my living room, yet they’re not really thinking ‘outside the box’ and allowing the platform to do more. (1) inability to play any type of video (avi, divx, mpeg) that I have is inordinately frustrating (2) the very slow (network transfer) and clunky method of showing pictures is horrible (3) the playing and browsing music is really very ‘1980’s’ and leaves me looking something much better.

    Tivo has to take advantage of the h/w they have in my house right now, recording and playing tv is great, but it’s fast becoming a commodity. I want to do much more, and Tivo’s lack of media options means that I’d move to a new solution without hesitation…

  6. Danielsan

    You wanna fix Tivo? Remember that it’s a stop-gap measure to “catch” shows as they are broadcast. It’s a stupid way to work when you really think about it. The notion of Podcasting or P2P is a FAR better mechanism for distributing content. Why is it possible for Tivo to record a blank channel, or miss the beginning/ending of a show? Because it’s based on TIME, not what the content actually is.

    Give me a keyboard and a mouse. Entering search terms and choosing which shows to watch with a remote is silly.
    Update that interface designed for a “television set” and make it usable on a 1080i MONITOR. (Even the HD versions use the same UI.)
    Put a web server in it. I want to delete, search, add, create “smart” stuff, etc. from a computer and let the box figure it out. The Tivo online thingy is nearly useless. I can REQUEST a show, but I can’t delete other shows to make room for the one I might want to add. WTF?
    Make it 1/3 its current size. I want to double-sided-tape it to the back of my monitor (or inside a cabinet, no reason to see it) and have a remote receiver LED receive signals. (and indicate reording, etc.)
    As for the RSS feeds, My Space, etc., if you’re going that far, just get a computer.


  7. uh…no. There’s only ONE way for Tivo to get it’s groove back. By figuring out how to give their boxes away and still make money. I am not sure this is possible. I’m 100% certain that no matter how good their boxes are, no matter how good the social networking, no matter how good the program guide,you can’t compete with “Free”.

    Comcast’s diabolical plan to wait until Tivo is pretty much worth absolutely nothing and then buy the brand on the cheap is well in motion.

    I do LOVE the “unbundle” cable idea. Love, love, love it! And I believe the world will move in this direction, but it will most likely be Apple, with ~3rd gen of Apple TV (complete with DVR) that will be able to do this via leverage with iTunes.

    As for September 2007, no chance in hell, the networks are way too freaked out to do this. Ok, maybe Showtime would do it, but otherwise,

  8. The way you win this arms race is to become switzerland. The box that has vallue today is the one that lets me choose my provider. I Should allways have OTA as a option, and backup. I should be able to have my 3rd party box and use with fully with Direct TV, Dish Comcast, IPTV.

    One box to rule them all in the darkness of update time, bind them.

    Free the consumer and they will poor money into your coffers. I keep waiting for MS to do this with MCE but there suck chicken shits it may never pan out.

    Personally I swore I would never buy another proprietary box, though I may have to go back on that if direct TV actually get’s sci-fi, FX and cartoon network going in HD (sci-fi in HD would especially be the bomb for me). I’m already pissed off as a customer about that though, I don’t want one shot proprietary equipment. I don’t even like leasing the Motorola garbage boxes from comcast.

    Choice is where the money is.

  9. Janko Roettgers You should be ashamed of yourself for writing this post. These are the most self-serving suggestions you could give to TiVo. I can see right through you. If TiVo did all that it would make your job so much easier. It would make a lot of our jobs easier and our free time easier too, Hey, I think you might be on to something here. Keep up the good work.

  10. ad supported programing al la Joost .(possibly partner with Joost )

    create a huge TIVO p2p network most people leave thier TIVOs on all day and this would be a great way to create a distributed computing network of thin clients ,

  11. Something I’d love to see in the programming guide — instead of the standard description from TMS, how about using the broadband pipe to show me a preview of the show? Work with the networks to get their promos and incorporate them into the program guide.