One reader's response to my article earlier this week about a NewTeeVee.com article on ways to kick things up a notch over at TiVo (Nasdaq: TIVO ) is too good not to elaborate on.
"I'm shamefully biased, but I laugh every time I see the sports version of the My Tivo Gets Me ad," Mark writes at the tail end of the user comments on the NewTeeVee story.
"If my Tivo really got me, it would start recording anytime the Yankees went into extra innings, a ranked college football team was about to be upset, or there was a pitcher with a no-hitter through 7."
Sure, Mark may be a little biased. He is Mark Phillip, the creator of AreYouWatchingThis.com. The website launched this past winter uses live scoreboards and a Digg-like user interface to alert community members of televised games that are building up to potentially classic finishes.
He closes by arguing that his site's application programming interface "would do a better job of getting Tivo's groove back than Taye Diggs could ever do."
Even if it's a self-serving comment, it speaks volumes about the lengths that TiVo should go to in order to make its service unique and worth paying a premium for.
Earning its monthly ransom
I'm a TiVo user, fan, and shareholder, yet even I can lift up my rose-colored glasses long enough to see that TiVo isn't for everyone. Heck, it probably isn't even for many of its active subscribers. If all you're using your TiVo for is to pause live television and record shows that you would otherwise miss, why are you paying TiVo a monthly ransom? Head out to your nearest Circuit City (NYSE: CC ) store, pick out a generic DVR, and you may never know the difference.
When you think about it, you may not even need a DVR at all given Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) advances with its Vista operating system in TV-enabled media center PCs. In other words, TiVo is going to have to earn its subs like Dagwood at a sandwich shop.
All but 1.7 million of the 4.3 million TiVo subscribers belong to a now-extinct deal with DirecTV (NYSE: DTV ) . TiVo is growing that smaller base of users it has brought in, but it's also going to have to earn that business with every passing billing cycle. TiVo no longer offers one-time lifetime subscriptions. It still ties hardware subsidies to contractual minimums, but its worth is being gauged on a monthly basis by most of its consumers these days. Over the past year alone, the number of TiVo-owned subscribers paying recurring fees has grown from 53% to 59%.
For the most part, TiVo is living up to its side of the bargain. The tie-in with Amazon.com's (Nasdaq: AMZN ) Unbox service to deliver TV shows, movies, and movie rentals directly into your TiVo is brilliant. If you haven't played with your broadband-enabled TiVo lately, you'll be floored by the ability to do things like stream Internet radio, check on local road traffic, or even hook up with your favorite podcast.
It's not enough, though. Either that or the company is simply doing a bad job of promoting its laundry list of Web-centric features. That will have to change, especially as more of its TiVo boxes come with wireless adapter accessory add-ons to make the most of all that the DVR pioneer has to offer.
TiVo can't just settle for the plethora of subscribers who feel that TiVo's season pass -- the company's patent-protected process of simplifying new episodes of any given show for the duration of the season -- is the best reason to buy a TiVo.
It's going to have to offer more. Monthly subscribers are going to have to expect their boxes to do more.
Information as ammunition
TiVo crunches a lot of data. Remember Nipplegate? TiVo made headlines after Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" three Super Bowls ago, reporting that viewership during the halftime show spiked up to 180% of the total for the championship game itself "as hundreds of thousands of households used TiVo's unique capabilities to pause and replay live television to view the incident again and again."
That should have sent lightbulbs popping all over TiVo HQ. Let's launch a weekly show detailing the most replayed moments in television! Let's find a way to alert our audiences that something noteworthy is happening, even if they can't reverse what their tuners aren't watching! Instead, TiVo used its rock-star status as a way to push its services as a ratings guru (and eventually offer advertising potential). Sure, it's great to see TiVo thinking like a business. Spotty profitability warrants that. But what about making the most of an opportunity as a way to market the service to consumers, too?
Alert services are not perfect. Even Mark's website ultimately relies on the power of the people to nudge attention toward a specific game, where the payoff may either never happen or have already happened.
At the other extreme, TiVo isn't going to have hires watching shows to send out user-wide missives. It's a shame, though. It'd be great for specific users to know when CNN is cutting in with breaking news, Barry Bonds is at the plate, Chad Johnson is about to break into a new touchdown routine, or C-Span is tallying votes. TiVo would be irreplaceable if it could provide a crawler detailing user-specified requests. Even what would seem like routine occurrences -- like Liberty Media Interactive's (NYSE: LINTA ) QVC selling PCs or David Letterman breaking into his Top Ten list on CBS (NYSE: CBS ) -- have infinite value in the "clip culture" times in which we live.
It is then -- and only then -- when TiVo would really get me.
And keep me forever.
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