Hollywood Killed Replay But Can They Take On Microsoft?

Davis Freeberg —  February 22, 2007

Shortly after I purchased my first TiVo, a friend of mine wanted to know my thoughts on whether or not he should get a DVR. Like any rabid obsessed TiVotee, I immedietely started gushing over, all of TiVo’s innovative features and about how much of a transformative effect, time shifting has played on my life.

After trying to hard sell him on a TiVo unit for over three weeks, I finally succeeded in convincing my friend to buy a DVR, but instead of going with the TiVo unit I recommended, he went with the ReplayTV 5000. I tried to talk him out of it, but no matter what I said he wouldn’t budge. I showed him the superior interface, I let him test drive my own unit, I tried pointing out that suggestions and wishlists were exclusive to TiVo, I even tried to scare him into believing that Replay would possible stop working, if the company went bankrupt. No matter how hard I tried though, I couldn’t convince him to choose TiVo over that ReplayTV 5000 unit because it had a feature no one could touch. Automatic commercial skipping.

When TiVo first launched, the movie studios completely freaked out over DVR technology. They understood early on, the impact time shifting would play on their revenues and went to great lengths to put a stop to it. Initially, TiVo wanted to partner with the studios, but instead the studios threatened to sue the company, if they even launched their product. Hollywood’s huffing and puffing turned out to be little more than hot air when it came to TiVo, but when ReplayTV had the nerve to introduce automatic commercial skipping, the studios knew they had to draw a line in the sand.

Immediately they lashed out and sued Replay, in order to make them stop. Replay did their best to fend off their legal attack, but eventually their parent company collapsed and rather then let the courts decide the legality of the technology, Hollywood quickly settled the case and resigned themselves to having at least contained the DVR threat.

After Replay found out about automatic skipping the hard way, other companies have been understandably reluctant to provide the technology to their customers. For years, the only way to gain access to this skip technology was to buy old ReplayTV boxes off of Ebay, but thanks to the open source community, there now appears to be a way to unlock automatic commercial skip on any Media Center PC.

Turning on commercial skip isn’t for the mainstream consumer yet, but for those who do spend the time figuring it out, it can add a powerful component to the Media Center experience.

The program itself is customizable and pretty robust. If you are feeling guilty about “stealingâ€? your television, it allows you to adjust the maximum number of minutes it cuts out of each program. You can also program it to strip out commercials and then tranfer those files to a media extender or Xbox.

As it becomes more popular, it will be interesting to see how the studios will react. Suing Replay or TiVo is one thing, but taking on a legal team that has already been up against the Justice department is another matter entirely. The studio’s could always forego the legal route and try to convince Microsoft to shut the leak with more juicy IPTV contracts, but sooner or later it will become an issue that they will want to address.

Hopefully, the studios will end up ignoring it as a fringe threat and let media center fans have their fun, but given how hard they fought round 1, I’m skeptical that we’ll always see skip technology around. For now though, with the help of the open source community, Microsoft has quietely gained a key differentiator in the crowded DVR market and consumers have one more way to enhance their television experience.

Davis Freeberg is a technology enthusiast living in the Bay Area. He enjoys writing about movies, music, and the impact that digital technology is having on traditional media. You can read more of his coverage on technology at www.davisfreeberg.com. Davis owns shares of TiVo stock.

10 responses to Hollywood Killed Replay But Can They Take On Microsoft?

  1. BeyondTV incorporates commercial skip as well.

  2. Actually the hubub was really about the show sharing the commercial skip was really more of an afterthought in the law suites that killed the poor DVR star replay.

  3. Have I been reading too much ZNF? I could tell from the first paragraph in the RSS version (which doesn’t have a byline) that this wasn’t written by Dave.

  4. Microsoft generally falls all over themselves to keep the media companies happy. I assume an attempt would be made to shut the door on this if it ever became commonplace. However, since its only going to be used by us gadget-hacks at the moment, they may not worry about it just yet.

  5. What TiVo people really need is a simple hack – really simple – to install this on a TiVo. Like maybe simple by sending it to Weakness or some such and have it installed along with a larger hard drive.

  6. I’m not Davis, but I just ordered that book. I got a C in high school English only because my high school wrestling coach intervened… (Anything lower than a C would have left me academically ineligible to compete.) Hopefully the book will give me permission to continue cheating — using ellipses and hyphens. ;)

  7. Semicolons are phenomenal and so few people use them.

  8. n00b question: Tivo doesn’t let you skip commercials?

    And as to Microsoft standing up to the film studios – a reminder that Microsoft bent over for the big music companies with the Zune, ruining it for the rest of us.


    ( Mis-use of commas, semi-colons and hyphens intentional! )

  9. Todd, TiVo lets you fast forward or use a 30 second skip to bypass commercials. However, the features in ReplayTV and BeyondTV identify commercial breaks in the content itself — During playback, without any manually intervention commercials are skipped.