Dearest TiVo,
Since I’m now apparently in charge of product development, here are some of the things I would like to see from my division:
At the mall this weekend I saw a Windows XP Media Center Edition display that had MCE running on a couple big screen TVs with couches in front of them and a hired goon to explain what was going on. TiVo should copy that right this second. realized long ago that it had to be experienced to be understood, this is an alternative to using customer evangelists.
People become transfixed when there’s a TV in sight, this should be exploited in public places. The TV should be hooked up to a cable feed, loaded with a ton of popular programs (call NBC, they have a stake in TiVo’s success) and people should be able to come by and see just how great TiVo is.
TiVo also gave away a buttload of units a few years ago. It’s time to do it again, but this time to places like sports bars. Show them how they can pause the game and get instant replays.
Back to the competition, let’s look at what Windows Media Center Edition provides. First, it’s way more expensive than TiVo’s $99 entry point, their entry point is something like $130, and that doesn’t include hardware. Why hasn’t marketing added this to those overly-stylistic New Yorker ads?
Windows Media Center Edition has a full SDK meaning that people can build all sorts of additional tools that people want. TiVo has an SDK that allows people to interface with the TiVo Desktop software. That’s like the difference between a PC and an I-Opener, note which one is still in business. If TiVo became an open platform, it would become the platform for digital media.
While we’re talking about accepting the benefits of the network effects that come with an open platform, take a look at what’s happening with PodCasting and video blogs. Why can’t I upload a video of my nephew’s birthday to a family blog and have it show up as content on all my family’s TiVo’s?
TiVo has a lot of dedicated fans (that’s not news) and those dedicated fans could build the services that TiVo needs to stay competitive. It’s only a matter of time before Torrerntocracy comes out for Windows Media Center Edition, and TiVo will be the Minidisc to Microsoft’s iPod.
I know this is hard to hear, tough love always is, but TiVo can’t stay closed forever. I know everyone at TiVo is afraid of being sued into oblivion like ReplayTV. Get over it, Microsoft has a stake in PVRs not being illegal and they will provide support for the legal battles that happen. Don’t work too closely with them, because they will destroy TiVo, but get them to help out in the battle to save PVRs.
In summary, get TiVo in front of people so us evangelists can stop dragging people over to show them how great it is and open up the damn platform. Oh, and stop announcing things like TiVo-to-go and then letting them languish. Release early and often, and let the general public do the same. Embrace the amateur media revolution, become the platform for digital media instead of just broadcast media (the Home Media Option was a good start but don’t let it stop there).
PS, have someone at HR get in touch with me, I still haven’t gotten my salary information, parking information, or come to think of it, anything about my new job there.

Update: Harvard Business School has an article on TiVo’s CEO Michael Ramsay that doesn’t bode well.

He drew an analogy with the Web browser which, when introduced, sold for forty dollars. But as the Internet developed, browsers not only became free, but also became platforms for companies including and eBay to run billion-dollar businesses.
Ramsay also predicted a fundamental change in TV entertainment over the next five years. Some 20 percent of TV programming will be broadband rather than broadcast, and will include specialized digital content (think games, other forms of interactive entertainment, and customized shopping) that broadcasters can’t offer over ordinary cable lines.

Too bad they don’t say what the analogy between TiVo, eBay and Amazon is. Amazon and eBay are so successful because the embrace user-created content (reviews and auctions). They admit that good content will be coming from the Internets, what they fail to acknowledge is that there’s already good content. Why can’t I add a season pass for Red vs. Blue or Strongbad Emails or whatever videoblog I like? Make it so, number one!

4 responses to “My Beloved TiVo…”

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more about having Tivo connected in stores. I was thinking that very same thing while browsing in a Target store over the weekend. I came across the entry level Tivo, Series 2 40 Hour, on the store’s shelves.
    I was finally able to pick the thing up and check out the I/O connections on the back. Everytime I’ve seen a Tivo in a store it has been in a box or tethered to the shelf by some sort of anti-theft device. Imagine how many units Tivo/retailers could push if they simply allowed people to test the power of a Tivo in stores.
    I’ve read tons of articles regarding Tivo, but I still I don’t know anyone who owns a Tivo, myself included. Tivo/Retailers need to let people test drive.

  2. A plea from the TiVo faithful

    George Hotelling just wrote a call to arms for TiVo lovers everywhere, and it’s a doozie. Well worth a look. George makes a compelling case for TiVo as the platform for digital media. I think TiVo is the answer, but…

  3. I’m not sure the advantages of MCE are great enough to be a big problem. If people understand MCE as a TiVO, it automatically begs the question of why go through the hassle when you could just buy a TiVO.
    I was thinking that what would really boost Windows Media Center Edition, competitively, would be if it supported multi-headed setups: multiple TVs.
    With cooperation from broadcasters and cable channels, they could then set up support for things like ultra-wide screen. Two screens next to each other, or three, displaying a wider view of, say, a sporting event.
    Or the second screen could show a different view of the action.
    Or it might show infographics synced to what’s on the other screen. That’d be good for news, sports, educational shows, etc. The second screen’s content could even be delivered via the internet, rather than through TV-carrying routes.
    CNBC would be a natural for that – the second screen could show a variety of data for whatever company is currently being discussed.
    Because of the DVR features, the user could always pause for more time to digest the data on the second screen.
    Anyway, really distinct features like that, that really enhance the TV-watching experience, are what Microsoft needs to make MCE a real success.

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