Stuffing the TiVo Genie Back in the Bottle

You may use this content (better still, argue with me!), but please cite my ideas as (c) 2005, Dr. Bruce Klopfenstein.

Forbes magazine online has a story from AP titled, TiVo Users Fear Recording Restrictions at http://www.forbes.com/feeds/ap/2005/09/22/ap2237839.html. In the story, it says
Among the functions included in TiVo's latest software upgrade is the ability to allow broadcasters to erase material recorded by TiVo's 3.6 million users after a certain date. That ability was demonstrated recently when some TiVo customers complained on TiVo community sites that episodes of "The Simpsons" and "King of the Hill" they recorded were "red-flagged" for deletion by the copyright holder.
The story also quotes TiVo spokesperson Elliot Sloan who called the red-flag incident a "glitch" affecting only a handful of customers. Nevertheless, TiVo itself acknowledges it has the technology to control the viewer's ability to save programs, if only to protect copyright holders' rights.

Matt Haughey, creator of PVRblog.com, has the central theme of this story right on:

"TiVo would be of limited utility in the future if the studios were allowed to do this with regular broadcast content," Haughey said. "This is like cell-phone jammers. What if you couldn't talk on your cell phone? If customers can't do something with their TiVo that they could in the past, they will stop using it."

OK, so what do I think? Well, what's great about my blog is that I'm on the outside looking in. I don't know what TiVo is thinking so my interpretations are not spoiled by having such inside knowledge. Instead, I can perhaps be more objective in looking at this issue. Here are some thoughts:

  • TiVo has never made any secret about its willingness to work with, rather than against, advertisers. To wit, you cannot fast forward quickly enough to bypass the ads, TiVo deliberately slows the FF speed to the point that you can recognize the sponsor of the ads.
  • TiVo lost is greatest partner and benefactor, DirecTV, whose owner, Rupert Murdoch, already has his own DVR working on BSkyB in Britain. It was no surprise to me that DirecTV announced it would be switching, presumably when their latest, greatest model was available.
  • TiVo may be playing to copyright holders, thinking it might emerge as a favorite among program providers who may decide to take their wrath (and large legal expenses) and attack other DVR providers who don't protect copyrighted material the way TiVo can.
  • I learned from my professional colleague, Jennifer Choate, with whom I worked on studies of early PVR users, that product "annoyances" can "motivate" a potential adopter to reject a new product, as Matt points out above on his PVRblog
  • Finally, I again repeat you cannot put the technology genie back in the bottle. I try to think of exceptions to this rule, and one of the only ones that comes to mind is the moratorium in building new nuclear power plants in the U.S. Any readers care to suggest others?

I am a TiVo user and on my old Series2 model, a software update now prevents me from downloading the program guide without a telephone line. Well, that's a problem because I gave up my rarely used $47/month landline back in May. Mind you, my phone jacks were not close to my television, so I didn't use a phone line with TiVo anyway, and the program guide was downloaded overnight via the Discovery Channel, an investor in TiVo (at least in the past). Maybe this should be a separate posting.

Anyway, I Personally still hope TiVo succeeds as a business. They invented the mass market technology, and there's something right about the "inventor" reaping the rewards. Of course, nothing is guaranteed, especially if you operate in ways that might drive away customers.


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