The Inevitability of DVRs

You may use this content, but please cite (c) 2005, Dr. Bruce Klopfenstein.

Well, everyone's on the DVR bandwagon. As usual, the cable industry has promised a lot but is slow to deliver. Dishnetwork and DirecTV both have DVRs. DirecTV has been using TiVo, but owner Rupert Murdoch has his own DVR in Great Britain. Not surprisingly, DirecTV has announced they will be introducing their own DVR soon.

Why are DVRs inevitable? The cost of computer storage devices continues to drop. In addition, the software that operates a DVR will continue to become more sophisticated. For example, TiVo uses "fuzzy logic" to guess which programs you might want to see based upon your current viewing habits. (TiVo uses your phone line to download that information every day, or more specifically, around 2-5 AM.) My personal experience is that TiVo makes some great catches, but even more misses. I have no doubt whatsoever that TiVo will continue to perfect this.

Here are some of the reasons why DVRs are inevitable:

  • The cost of storage is declining and has already made DVRs very affordable.
    • DVRs make the current model of programmer control over the viewing schedule obsolete. DVR users quickly adopt the new model of recording favorite shows to be viewed at any time and on any day.
    • DVRs will become "free" (give away the razor to sell the blade) as service providers (cable and satellite) start to pump advertiser-supported infomercials, movie trailers, and other commercially sponsored content to DVRs
    • Providers (cable and satellite) will charge a monthly fee for the service (are you still paying something each month for your $9 cable remote?)

  • DVR technology (hardware and software) will steadily increase in functionality similar to the way PCs evolve.

  • Cable and satellite operators will include a DVR with their next set-top box upgrades.

  • The competition between cable and satellite is forcing cable operators to offer DVR service

  • DVRs will become the advertisers' best friend as we choose to watch even long-form advertising (see the latest post).

  • DVRs have among the highest consumer approval of any consumer electronics product in history
    • Users don't want to go back to the "old" way of watching TV.
    • Behaviors as simple as pausing live TV readily become habit (the video goes from the cable to the DVR first and then to the TV monitor).
    • Users can record any program by title alone (no need to know when or what channel the program is on).
    Those who have not witnessed the utility of a DVR are unlikely to accept this inevitability. The DVR is clearly an experiential device.

    One of the most incredible resource and research tools anywhere is a web site that is run by TiVo enthusiasts: tivocommunity.com. Researchers and TiVo users can see what the hot topics about TiVo use are (and TiVo does monitor the site, offering solutions as it sees fit).

    ReplayTV is an early entry DVR, but it was sued by program copyright holders almost out of existence. ReplayTV is still available, but the issue of copyright infringement hasn't gone away. In my opinion, program providers will fail in their attempts to lasso DVRs. The consumer electronics industry will lobby hard against those efforts, and home users will find ways around possible restrictions on their use. I agree with Stewart Brand: information wants to be free.