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Where TiVo Went Wrong

by Sean P. Aune | March 15, 2010March 15, 2010 6:51 pm PDT

Most companies dream of becoming synonymous with their field.  “Google it” long ago replaced “search”, “Coke” became a generic term for soda drinks and TiVo became the generic term for DVRs (Digital Video Recorders).  So with that success under its belt, how is it there always seems to be a story out there about how the company is on the verge of failure?

tivo-hd-dvrThe company seems to be chugging along, but the vast majority of stories out there always seem to suggest it is teetering on the end of oblivion. It has become a bit of a running joke that TiVo is being kept afloat by suing for patent infringements against just about every DVR out there, and they keep winning multi-million dollar settlements.  The problem is, these jokes wouldn’t be made if there didn’t seem to be a hint of truth to them.

While TiVo made a name for itself in the early days by selling its devices low and making up the difference in subscription fees, it began raising its prices over the years, increasing the barrier to adoption.  It became more and more of a gamble for consumers to even try out the devices, and then faced a monthly fee after they did purchase them.  Despite the fact that other DVRs obviously violated their patents, the options are still out there, and most of them come free with your cable or satellite subscription, so why should you buy a separate device?

sadtivoWhile the new TiVo Premiere is a nice looking device with a bunch of nifty features, why should a person upgrade if they have a different model that still works perfectly well?  Unlike upgrading from a DVD player to a Blu-ray player, a DVR has a basic function of recording shows for playback when you feel like it.  Yes, the newer models keep adding more bells and whistles, but if all you care about is recording shows, why would you bother to upgrade?

There are two other major factors the company has to face now that didn’t really exist when it first appeared in 1999: DVDs and streaming/downloading shows.  Both of these items have eliminated some of the needs for a DVR.  You can hop online and watch your favorite show whenever you choose, and it is getting easier and easier to stream that content to your TV.  As for DVDs, you can always just wait for the box set and watch the entire show as fast as you want with no ads, and you get to keep it.  Why bother recording even though you can fast forward the ads?

While there is still a market for DVRs/TiVos, it may be time for all parties involved in the market to realize that the home entertainment market is changing.  I think TiVo is catching on with the new Premiere units having streaming capabilities for things like Netflix Watch Instantly, but that still requires them to find either new customers for their services, or find some way to convince current users to upgrade.

TiVo can still keep itself from going totally “wrong”, but it is going to take some work.


Sean P. Aune

Sean P. Aune has been a professional technology blogger since July 2007, but his love of tech dates back to at least 1976 when his parents bought...

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