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January 18, 2005 / jnolen

Am I falling out of love with TiVo?

TiVo seems in a precarious position these days. The bad news just keeps coming: They lose their contract with DirectTV. They announce that they’re going to start selling ad-space in their UI. They finally release the long overdue TiVo2Go — but it’s DRM crippled and not even ready for the Mac. They pitch their brilliant new strategy to try to sell people extra content off the net. They announce that they are “promoting” their CEO, Mike Ramsay, architect of said strategy. And today, the NYT breaks a story that says TiVo walked away from a deal with Comcast.

I’ve been wondering for years why TiVo couldn’t manage to ink a deal with any of the cable companies. Now I’m sure those negotiations were fraught with difficulty — but this failure will, I think, ultimately doom the company. Honestly, the parallels to the early days of the Mac are just too plain:

A world-changing product is introduced to universal acclaim. It’s somewhat expensive, but it still gets enough adoption to get off the ground. They start with a overwhelming technological advantage. They discuss licensing the software to third-parties to help adoption, but the company is too afraid of cannibalizing their high margins (hardware, in the case of Apple, direct subscriptions for TiVo) to do so. In the meantime, everyone else (including Microsoft) release their own, inferior solutions. But these competitors have more resources and all the time in the world to work on making their product “good enough.” And, crucially, they are able to secure distribution deals with the hardware providers so most people never even realize they had a choice to buying the superior product.

Because of TiVo’s failure to learn from history, we are going to get saddled with inferior technology that is completely in thrall to the content-distribution monopoly.

And while TiVo’s business failings are manifest, they’ve also begun to disappoint me as a user, I’m growing increasingly frustrated — it seems as though TiVo the product hasn’t really been making any forward progress at all since it’s introduction.

TiVO Series 2 was all about shutting down the Series 1’s hackability. Home Media Option seemed cool on paper, but in practice it was lackluster. I’m not sure it was even worth the $99 I paid for it. And when they announced, less than a year later, that they were giving HMO away for free, I felt burned. The general TiVo interface hasn’t really advanced since version 1.0. It’s still slow. The TiVo-to-Web interface is still completely lame. The TiVo-to-computer interface doesn’t really exist. And now TiVo2Go won’t even run on my Mac.

In any case, TiVo is fast losing my… well, not my loyalty, but my enthusiasm. Which is probably just as well — I don’t know how long they’re going be around anyway.

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