Can TIVO Emerge from the Grave?

imageAs long time readers know, my TIVO cycle went from deep and abiding love, to concern as the horizon darkened, to anger at DirecTV for abandoning TIVO, to a cynical Deathwatch and, finally, to irritation at what I saw as irrational death throes.  Well, there have been recent signs that, like Dracula, TIVO may soon emerge from the grave and retake its place with the living gadgetry.

First, there came news that DirecTV had seen the error and avarice of its ways and was partnering up with TIVO to develop a high definition DirecTV TIVO.  Initially, I put the odds on this happening just above the odds of me ever using Facebook.  Which at the time were astronomically low.

Well, guess what. . .

But the new DirecTV TIVO story had some staying power.  At the moment, it looks like DirecTV customers might get a new TIVO option next yearMaybe.  You can sign up here for relevant announcements.

image_thumbIt gets better.

Today, I read that TIVO has enabled a feature that lets users subscribe to and download video podcasts.  There are potential devils in the details (most significantly, the ability or lack thereof to create a “season pass” equivalent for custom video feeds), but there’s no denying that if executed correctly this will be a neat feature.

Does this mean I will trash my semi-functional but nowhere near a TIVO DirecTV HD recorders?  I don’t know.  It depends on the cost.  Much more delay and I will be out of the contract period I agreed to when DirecTV gave me the new boxes (after I threatened to go crawling back to cable).  If I can get a fancy, new TIVO.  If it doesn’t cost me too much.  And if I believe that history will not repeat itself.  Then I might.

Either way, competition is good for consumers.  And it would be psychologically rewarding to see a technology as good as TIVO survive.  Even if it is, to some extent, in spite of itself.

Do Unicorns Watch TIVOs Too?

Do I have a TIVO box?  You bet I do.  A bunch of them, ranging from my first 14 hour one to the now obsolete HR10-250s HD units I paid a grand a piece for.  Obsolete, because they don’t do MPEG-4.  And because DirecTV greedily killed them off in favor of its inferior PVR.

I sound bitter, only because I am.  TIVOs were one of those once or twice-in-a-lifetime technologies that changed the world the first time you used them.  Like cars.  Like telephones.  Like that magic box on Lost.

TIVO was my constant companion for a few years.  I even won a free one once by writing a song about TIVOs:

I need a free TIVO
To put here in my den
So when I want to watch a show
It will be on right then
There are lots of good shows
I never get to see
X-Files, Star Trek, Millennium
And good ol’ MST

My time with TIVO was beautiful.  There were unicorns running around and I was sure the guy would get the girl (credit Andy from work for that apt description of abject optimism).

And then it ended- at least for those of us who chose satellite over cable.  All that’s left of all that great time-shifting entertainment is my little TIVO man.  He lies forgotten in my kids’ toy box the way my expensive and obsolete TIVOs lie abandoned in my garage and on eBay.

So yeah, I have a TIVO box.  All I need now is a unicorn and everything will be just dandy.

I really miss my TIVO.

Technorati tags:

TIVO Deathwatch: DirecTV Wins Again

This heart of mine could never see
What everybody knew but me
Just trusting you was my great sin
What can I do, you win again

– Hank Williams

DirecTV and TIVO made an announcement today that at first blush sounds like great news. At first blush.

In the wake of DirecTV abandoning TIVO in favor of some as yet unreleased DirecTV branded recorder, the parties agreed to extend their “commercial agreement” for 3 years.

So what does this mean for DirecTV customers who use TIVOs? In my house we have 4 of the HDTV DirecTIVOs. I call them our $1000 doorstops in waiting.

First of all, it won’t keep our TIVOs from being obsolete in the face of the move to MPEG-4 by DirecTV as a part of the roll out of local networks in HDTV. In fact, the Houston stations are supposedly available now in HDTV. The only problem is that there is no MPEG-4 compatible DirecTIVO or equivalent. So while today’s news likely means that my DirecTIVOs will continue to receive the channels that are currently available, they will not get the Houston HDTV locals or presumably any new DirecTV HDTV content, which will likely be pushed in MPEG-4 format.

It also seems unlikely that TIVO will produce a new MPEG-4 compatible DirecTIVO. And if it did, the fool me one rule dictates that consumers not buy it in light of the 3 year term of the new agreement. I suppose if the unit came out shortly, I’d consider buying it, as 3 years is a long time in tech-years. But every day that passes makes that a less desirable option.

While this deal sends a little oxygen into TIVO’s breathing tube, the real win is on the DirecTV side of the ledger, as part of the deal is an agreement that TIVO will not sue DirecTV for patent infringement, like it is currently suing EchoStar, operator of the Dish Network.

Meanwhile, DirecTV continues to develop and market their own branded digital recorders.

TIVO does get an extension of the $1 per month per TIVO box payment from DirecTV. This is worth about $36M a year- which is real money.

Commenting on the new deal, Nyquist Capital cuts to the bottom line and says:

In short, we’’re a little stumped why the market thinks this is such a great deal beyond protecting a recurring revenue stream. If DirecTV had agreed to use Tivo exclusively and stop in house development, that would be big news. All that has really happened is a further extension of the status quo.

My conclusion is that someone at DirecTV got smart and proactive and cut a deal with TIVO that DirecTV views more as a settlement of the potential patent infringement claim than a business deal, in exchange for continuing the $1 per month per TIVO box payments for 3 more years. The fact that this will delay enraging all of the DirecTV TIVO users is just icing on the cake.

Let me say it again- this is about lawsuit avoidance. Think of it as a pre-settlement of a potential lawsuit.

TIVO gets some much needed cash to keep the lights on while it tries in vain to reinvent itself. DirecTV gets out of a potentially messy lawsuit and can claim to be taking care of its TIVO-loving customers.

Thomas Hawk (like me a TIVO user), while agreeing that there is less than meets the eye here, calls it a win/win. From the stands it sure looks like it.

But I bet if you pulled up the photo finish tape and had the contract in your hand, one horse’s nose clearly hit the finish line first.

DirecTV wins again.

Tags: ,

TIVO Deathwatch: Money for Nothing and the TIVOs are Free

nailcoffinI haven’t written in a while about my beloved and soon to be obsolete TIVOs. Recall that TIVO was number one in my Top 50 Gadgets list, but that I believe DirecTV for all intents and purposes killed TIVO when it abandoned TIVO in favor of its own digital recorder line.

Since then, TIVO has been floundering around trying to hook up with the old enemy, the cable companies, while making a deal a day or so in the hopes that one of those deals will be the lifeline it so badly needs.

Today I read another story indicating that TIVO may give its boxes away in order to gain subscribers (I sure am glad I paid a grand a piece for our three HDTV TIVOs so I can use them to prop open our doors).

TIVO’s plan is to give the boxes away in exchange for either a higher monthly fee (in which case, they really aren’t giving them away- they’re merely entering the rent-to-own business) and/or a longer contract.

Here’s the great, big obvious problem with that: how does the customer know that the box it gets will be compatible with the television service for the duration of this longer contract?

Rewind a year or so. If I’d know when I chunked down three large for my HDTV TIVOs that a few months later (a) DirecTV would dump TIVO and (b) DirecTV would move to MPEG-4, making my boxes little more that expensive door stops, I probably wouldn’t have bought them. Having experienced that little slice of gadget bliss, why in the world would I sign anything resembling a long term contract that might require me to pay for service that no longer works with my television provider?

What’s to keep the cable companies from doing what DirecTV did and dumping TIVO in favor of their own boxes? And even if they love TIVO, what happens when someone they don’t love or view as a competitor buys TIVO?

I would love to figure out a way to keep using TIVOs forever, but under the current state of affairs, I don’t see a safe and cost efficient way to do that.

It a shame, because TIVO brought life changing techology into lots of homes.

Tags: ,

TIVO Deathwatch: Flatlining?

nailcoffinI saw a note at PVR Wire that Jim Cramer, who I generally like, has said that he believes TIVO’s stock price will “flatline now.” While this should not be surprising to anyone who has watched DirecTV abandon TIVO and TIVO flail around wildly looking for a lifeline, it’s another sign that TIVO continues its march to the edge of the cliff.

TIVO has been forced to align itself with the cable companies who probably view this as a way to entice some current satellite users back to cable. This may keep TIVO alive for a while, until the cable companies either abandon TIVO and develop their own, probably inferior, box or wait for TIVO to be teetering on the edge of the cliff and buy it cheaply.

Someone will buy TIVO at some point, the only question is when and for how much.

Technorati Tags:

TIVO Deathwatch: Clash with a Titan?

Variety reports that TIVO, through its new deal-a-day CEO, is moving towards a showdown (cue Archie Bell song). Seems the TV networks, who presumably are the requiring force behind the DRM functions TIVO has been experimenting with, are all a tither about the forthcoming feature (or maybe it’s already here- I have a $1000 HD-TIVO/doorstop that doesn’t get any of the new features rolled out to the $100 boxes) that will allow people to download network TV shows to their iPods (really- will anybody actually do this?). Of course the networks are also worked up about the fact the TIVOs allow you to fast forward through commercials, even though (a) VCRs have allowed this for decades and (b) that’s one of the main reasons people buy TIVOs (along with the ability to hold doors open once they are pre-maturely obsolete).

Here’s my thing:

1) People can record network shows for their own use. The networks fought and lost that battle a long time ago.

2) No one is going to do this purely to rob the TV networks of their rights. While I will never experience it firsthand, I’m pretty sure a show on an iPod is less fulfilling experience than a show on an HDTV big-screen.

3) These shows are broadcast for free. I get most of my network HDTV over the air and so do most other DirecTV customers. It’s not like people are stealing unreleased movies and putting them on the internet.

I honestly believe that the networks and the record label cartel are so freaked out by the gradual decline of the goose that has laid golden eggs for so long that their knee-jerk reaction any time they hear the word download is to start screaming and flailing around wildly.

The cat is out of the bag as far as media distribution goes. These companies need to start adapting to the world, because I don’t think the world is going to stop turning just because their gravy train has slowed down a little.

Technorati Tags:
, ,

TIVO Deathwatch: A Potpourri of Bad Decisions

Every time I promise myself to abandon my TIVO deathwatch, something else ludicrous happens.

nailcoffinSince it’s been awhile, let me say again that I love my HDTV DirecTIVO. Even though many of them fail early and often (one of mine included), TIVOs are great. But once DirecTV needlessly abandoned it in favor of its own branded box, TIVO has been running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to make deals to save itself.

Some of the deals make sense, some don’t. But nothing, perhaps in the history of space and time, is as dumb as this- TIVO is all fired up about its upcoming ad search service. That’s right, soon we’ll be able to search the ads we bought our TIVOs to avoid. TIVO thinks advertisers will engage in a lucrative bidding war for the most desirable keywords. Maybe we’ll even get to search for our favorite infomercial. Dionne Warwick will rocket (back?) to stardom. Maybe next week TIVO will announce a searchable spam index (normally I would consider that humor, but in this case consider it a prediction).

Does anyone, anywhere think this is a good thing? I wish Steven Hawking would write a series of books on how TIVO went from the best digital product of the past 10 years to a company that believes ad searching is a good feature.

More evidence that TIVO has lost it:

1) According to Tom Rogers, President and CEO of TiVo, ad searching is a new and innovative advertising solution that will result in a better user experience for the viewer.

2) TIVO’s much discussed (and sleep inducing to me) deal to make content available to video iPods might just get it sued by one of the networks TIVO has been catering to by adding all sorts of DRM features to the content we record. You can’t please all the people all the time, but can TIVO actually manage to displease all the people all the time?

3) The photos of TIVO’s other new deal (with Yahoo, Fandango (whatever that is) and Live365 (which [use to host] Rancho Radio)) look like the rebirth of WebTV, only without Microsoft pushing it. If TIVO wants to make a deal that just might save it, go do a Media PC-like, HDTV-inclusive deal with, that’s right, Microsoft.

Marketwatch has an article that basically says TIVO is doing too many deals and too little thoughtful planning. I’ve been saying the same thing (though less eloquently) for some time. Maybe it’s too late for TIVO. If not, it will be soon if it doesn’t stop thrashing around for a life saving deal and decide what it wants to be and to whom.

Technorati Tags:

TIVO Deathwatch: A Survey Says the Sky is Blue

File under the surveying the obvious category.

A survey has determined that TIVO is losing its buzz. Ya think?


Maybe the fact that

1) DirecTV has abandoned it,

2) the HDTV boxes we paid a grand a pop for are either dying of a bad hard drive or about to be obsolete since they don’t do MPEG-4, and

3) nobody who dumped cable for satellite TV is willing to run back to the oppressive cable company just in the hopes of using a TIVO until the cable company pulls a DirecTV and dumps TIVO in favor of its own recorder

has something to do with it.

Technorati Tags:

TIVO Deathwatch: Throwing Ropes


When you’re sinking, if you’re still conscious you start throwing ropes and hope someone grabs the other end. TIVO seems to be throwing them all over.

PVRblog reports that TIVO and Yahoo may be about to announce a deal that will embed “record to TIVO” buttons in the Yahoo TV section and add some sort of Yahoo weather and traffic feature to TIVO.

Also, Real Tech News has an article quoting some guy at the Motley Fool (an investing site that I do not like) about how Google should buy TIVO.

A bidding war between Yahoo and Google- now that might just the what the doctor ordered to save TIVO.

Technorati Tags:

TIVO Deathwatch: DirecTV Stumbles Around Needlessly

There’s an interesting post on Thomas Hawk’s page about DirecTV’s difficulty in putting together its TIVO replacement boxes.

DirecTV has selected LG Electronics to make the DirecTV branded PVRs and has hired another company to help support MPEG-4. We have no reliable idea when we’ll see the HD PVR replacement. A lot of work just to be rid of TIVO. Plus, DirecTV risks losing some loyal TIVO customers who don’t want to switch to the new box.

All in all, I’m not sure who is really benefitting from this mess. Obviously DirecTV thinks it can put the money it was paying TIVO into its own pocket- maybe so, but there’s just not all that much money to be saved. And everyone other than DirecTV is certainly going to suffer.

Technorati Tags: