Has TiVo, Inc Lost Its Way?


The New York Times is out with a piece covering a number of TiVo’s advertising initiatives. Which I was ready to let go, until I came upon this beauty:

TiVo is not the only company devising a solution to commercial-skipping.

Which reinforces my frequent refrain these days. Who are TiVo’s customers? The advertising industry? Or us television-loving ‘civilians’? Back when I got on board, TiVo was the commercial skipping solution. Their core mission was to enhance my television viewing experience, with content discovery and advertising avoidance. “TV your way.” Yet, instead of building upon that foundation (how about auto-commercial skipping, enhanced suggestions and presentation, sharing wishlists or Season Passes with friends), we’re confronted with more paid advertising. In fact, if we were to tally new features introduced over the last few years, ad delivery methods and viewer metrics might top all others.

Of course, I’m a realist. As I know, and as the Times column discusses, this is the way the industry is moving. And historically, this is how television (and radio) services have largely been subsidized in America. I’m just a bit bummed TiVo isn’t quite the TV freedom advocate and innovator they once were. Even if TiVo were to offer a higher tier of ad-free service to find profitability, I doubt I’d pay up. (And there’s no way in hell I’m sullying my home with Comcast DVRs… that also feature ads.) So I’d probably feel better if TiVo started by refreshing their stale UI to more gracefully integrate advertising instead of just tacking it on in random places (like the pause menu hack job above).

34 thoughts on “Has TiVo, Inc Lost Its Way?”

  1. TiVo has gone too far for me. I won’t do all three:

    1) Buy a device.
    2) Pay a monthly fee for a device.
    3) Suffer through advertising.

    I would do two of the above.

  2. Strongly agree with that 1-2-3 list from the previous poster. For $156 per year, my Tivo-screens should be ad-free. If they want my eyeballs for their ads, give me my money back ;)

    GMail, Hotmal, Yahoo, etc. all have paid versions of their email services — even they shut off the ads for those who pay.

  3. I think they have lost their way. The fact is that I can’t recommend them anymore. I’ve bought 3 of their DVR’s over the years, and convinced a couple other people to buy them as well. The problem from my perspective is that they are incrementally degrading my user experience, and I have no recourse other than to abandon them completely. To top it all off, they don’t solicit or respond to feedback from the user community at large.

    What really seems to stick in my craw, is that I see lingering bugs (like 1x fast forward not working on NBC HD channels via CableCard) and oft-requested enhancements (like the ability to push programs via MRV instead of just being able to pull them) going by the wayside as they work on littering my TV with more ads.

    The TiVo UI has been much lauded over the years for being a pleasure to use, and deservedly so. That was their big advantage. Now, every ad that pops up in front of my face seems to raise my blood pressure a bit. That’s not pleasant at all.

  4. I’ve been a TiVo customer for about nine years, and I’ve never seen it as a “commercial skipping solution,” honestly. Yes, it’s nice to skip commercials, but I’d probably rank that about half way down in importance of features (far more important are Season Passes, a usable Guide, live TV pause and rewind, search and now the VOD features). Even if they removed the commercial skipping capability completely, I’d still find TiVo very useful. Not that I wouldn’t be annoyed if they did that, and not that I think it would be a good business decision, but I have to say I don’t quite understand the perspective that commercial skipping is the be all and end all of TiVo’s value. If that’s really true, they’ve done themselves a grave disservice by failing to get people to understand the other great benefits TiVo brings…

  5. Tivo has lost their way because they have forgotten who buys their product. Granted consumers are price fickle. I just got a comcast DVR free for a year and it will be hard to upgrade to a Tivo HD for $299+120.

    They need to absolutely stick it to tv advertising and allow overlaid ads like google. See a GM ad? have tivo sell me a ford truck instead.

  6. @Abs:
    Is the 1x fast-forwarding necessarily TiVo’s fault? My understanding was that it’s the fault of the provider for not providing an MPEG-2 video stream with frequent-enough keyframes. TiVo boxes don’t re-encode HD video, so they don’t have control over keyframe intervals. It seems plausible to me since it happens only on particular channels.

    I agree it does look bad for 1x FF to do nothing, though. If it is the provider’s fault, then TiVo at least could do something to assign blame to the right party (i.e., showing an on-screen message explaining that 1x FF is not available).

  7. I’ve been a TiVo user since the beginning! I recently sold my “lifetimed” Series 1 and Series 2 units (I’ve become an HD snob). I currently use a TiVo HD with lifetime service.

    I also use a Vista Media Center with a HDHomerun tuner. The main advantage in using the TiVo was the CableCard tuner, but I will be cutting back my Cable TV service to “Limited Basic” shortly, so that benefit will no longer be there. And most of what I do record is from the networks anyway.

    With my Media Center, I have programed the forward skip to 1 minute, and the reverse skip to 30 seconds. It is very easy to navigate through unwanted material with NO ads or other annoyances!

    If TiVo continues to degrade my TV watching experience, I may have to part with this one too…

  8. @ Richard – while I agree that streaming is a part of the future (not a complete replacement for live broadcasts, I don’t think) – TiVo has millions of boxes out there with hard drives and ethernet jacks plus an upgradeable OS. If they choose not to adapt, then they deserve to phase out of existence.

  9. My TiVo still does all the same things I wanted it to do when I got it.

    Ads on the bottom of lists do not bother me at all.

  10. @James,

    You make a fair point about the 1x FF not necessarily being TiVo’s fault. That might have been an unfair swipe. And your suggestion of notifying users that the 1x FF doesn’t seem to work is a good one.

    I also understand that, from TiVo’s perspective, it makes sense to spend their development time/ money on things that bring in more dollars, which ads would seem to do. Still, it really creases me that they’re degrading my experience of using a product that I might not have bought had I known it would function like it does.

  11. Dave,
    Your article is right on. Companies that forget this have a short period of time to remember it again. I think TiVo is in trouble if they don’t find their way again. I love my TiVo HD right now, and can’t say I care about the ad changes. However, there have been no features added to my device while I’m paying my monthly fee, and I do care about that. I’ve left TiVo before for better features and I’ll do it again. Right now, there is nothing I want that is “better” for me, but there are new devices all the time.

  12. I honestly don’t mind the ads and feel they enhance my user experience. Many of the “ads” that appear in the Tivo interface are simply links to other areas that feature more traditional advertising. I appreciate that. For instance, today, I opted to watch a Star Trek ad, strangely sponsored by E-Surance. I like having the option to watch an ad, and I could care less about banner ads.

  13. “My TiVo still does all the same things I wanted it to do when I got it.”

    This argument is interesting. On one hand, it’s spot on. TiVo is still a great DVR. However, it neglects the fact that the rest of the industry, while moving slow, is still in motion. (Do we all drive our old Chevy Nova that does the same thing as a modern car and does what it always did?) There are reasonable competitors to the TiVo hardware/service. Many offer 30 second skip. Plus various other increments forward and back. And I really like where Verizon is taking their FiOS TV service (see their Twitter and Facebook widget demo?) I’m also digging my Moxi loaner – the UI’s taking some getting used to and requires maybe too many clicks, but it’s a fresher (HD) modern look.

    I also feel like folks may be getting sidetracked by the pause menu ad mentions – my core point is that “TV your way” hasn’t seen much evolution and maybe isn’t the current driving force. Not to mention, it’s possible “TV your way” may not be an effective business model by a third party selling through retail.

    Points above that the industry are changing are so true – and, for example, it frustrates me to see TiVo’s Desktop software transcoding podcasts. For a company that prides itself on a drop dead simple UI, why is this a non-intuitive function and offloaded to a PC? Let’s beef up TiVocasts and do it right. So much great content, why not make it easier for me to get at?

    And the HME interface kills me. It’s slow, way too slow. (And often inconsistent with other parts of the UI.) Beta Search looks beautiful, and I hope that’s the future of TiVo. But it needs to run natively, rather than a tacked on Java app pulling most of its components from Alviso.

    I only bitch, because I care. ;)

  14. I can’t figure out why everyone is so pissed off about the ads on their pause screen. I’m just happy TiVo is still in business. Because without them, I would be stuck with a POS cable co. DVR and that would suck. Yes, I want a new UI and I want it in true HD but whatever. It willo happen someday. To everyone with ads on their pause screen, get over it. It doesn’t infringe on your viewing habits and it keeps your favorite company in business for another day.

  15. Anyone that complains about the GUI hasn’t looked at the Beta Search tool on the S3 and TivoHD. That’s where Tivo is going.


  16. When I purchased my first TiVo in 1999, it was truly a game changing experience. But I didn’t get a lifetime subscription, because I figured that it used a hard drive and (primarily) that while a great idea, it was eminently copyable. I used that series1 until 2006, when I got the series3, so the lifetime membership thing would have been a good idea.

    Is the DVR concept eminently copyable? Absolutely! Everybody has a DVR now, and most of them aren’t TiVos. But nobody has even come vaguely close to providing the user experience I had back in, oh, 2000, when TiVo released the version of the software with wishlists and season pass reordering.

    Problem is, TiVo hasn’t improved since 2000 either. Their devices have more hard drive space and support HD now, true, but the UI is as slow as ever, none of the features they’ve added improve the core DVR experience for me, and you can find advertisements everywhere you look.

    I used to be a TiVo _evangelist_. Now I’m like an abused wife. I stick with TiVo not because I love it but because, dammit, everything else sucks _more_.

  17. My TiVos are still meeting my primary needs. I think the trick for them will be to upgrade features and the UI without destroying what has made TiVo be most consistent and usable DVR.

    I agree with Dave that the new Beta screens (such as the ones that come up when a show is paused that give you more info on the show) do look really nice, but it takes 10 seconds to get from the pause screen to the Beta screen on a TiVo HD.

  18. Ads and what not aren’t really a problem. Improved functionality/user-experience is what’s needed. What TiVo needs to do with Series4 is to bite the bullet and make it a media monster even if it means ponying up for one more chip (e.g. Sigma ones used in WD TV, PCH, etc.) and speeding up & polishing up their interface a whole lot. Anything other than basic functionality is a major pain. That’s why I don’t use HME, Rhapsody, Amazon, etc.

  19. Strange. Commentors and Mr. Zatz want TiVo to “get with the times”.

    As I type this, I know the Simpsons is on in few minutes but I don’t necessarily have to watch the broadcast when it airs since

    1) My PVR, hulu ( as well as pbs and amazon ), will have it available for me to watch when I want to.

    2) David Silverman will answer any questions I have ( @tubatron on Twitter ) as I watch it.

    Reliance on proprietary hardware? Not interacting in a meaningful with the artists that created the content you enjoy? “Get with the times” indeed.

  20. I won’t bother with tivo unless they pony up and modernize their system. Come on, in this age of HD they still have 4:3 and slow menu’s? My Nintendo Wii menu runs smoother than a Tivo, and it’s only 480p!

    If Tivo wants to survive, they are going to have to take a little bit from Moxi, a little bit from Vista / Win 7 media center, a little bit of tivo, and a whole lot of new innovation. It’s prolly gonna require a Series 4 box for the memory and horsepower to do it, but until then, they won’t have me as a customer.

    Sure the Cable DVR is a POS, but at least it comes included with my Premium Triple Play bundle from Comcast. Threaten to move to DirecTV for lack of HD channels and poor guide UI, they will throw the DVR charge in for you (as long as you’ve been good and always paid on time).

  21. Unless TiVo starts REQUIRING me to watch ads, I’m not upset by all the ad crap at the bottom of the menus. I never look at any of it – it’s almost invisible to me.

    With the Netflix Watch Instantly integration, it gives me more content than I have time to watch, and on my schedule. If they need to do a few ad gigs to achieve financial viability, that’s OK with me.

    However, at $12.95 per month for what’s primarily a program scheduling capability, I’m puzzled about why they don’t make money big time.

  22. Dave’s point on this is very insightful. I think aside from the the cable-provider vs. Tivo debate, the key argument stands: If you’re going to start putting on adds, at least don’t do them in a kludgy way that muddles the UI, which otherwise still retains a ease-of-use.

    The fundamental problem is that Tivo has never made any real money from their hardware+subscription model (see http://finance.yahoo.com/news/TiVo-Reports-First-Full-Year-prnews-14516287.html), so the ads are a last-ditch effort to stay in business. And the efforts to get Tivo onto cable boxes seem to be a dead-end too.

  23. Here in Canada I finally started experiencing the pause menu ad last week. I didn’t think I’d mind it as much as I do. See, it turns out when I pause, I pause because I want to look at something on pause. Having to clear away the damn ad angers me each time. Yes, I also pause when I go to the bathroom. The ads don’t bother me then. But I suddenly now realize how often I pause to look at something when I have to fight the damn PVR to do it now.

    Otherwise, I agree with most everything else said here. I thought TiVo ‘jumped the shark’ a few years ago when it eliminated lifetime subs. They’re back and it still feels like the shark has long been jumped.

    And as for new innovations. Most of the new innovative features do not exist in Canada on any model. Grrrr! So its been even longer since I’ve experienced anything new for my hard-earned sub money.

    That said, I still jump through hoops to use the product because it is still the best PVR experience for my needs.


  24. I’m not sure TiVo have lost their way, they obviously need to stay in business. As for the ads. You have to select them to see the ads, it’s not like you can not avoid them. They are even easier to avoid than TV ads since the TV ads you have to fast forward. The TiVo ads you can avoid, by not selecting them. I don’t see the big deal.
    If they can get more revenue from that and drop my monthly fee, I’m all for that.
    As for their future, they need to ad Hulu, Boxee or something similar.
    I am sick of the local channels being cut off for a “special announcement” or power outages, and I can’t catch up since they are not shows that are repeated. If don’t see the point of having YouTube, since the crappy quality of those videos does not look good on a 42″ plasma. If I could get full length shows from Hulu, Boxee, ABC or NBC or whereever FOR FREE as if I had a computer hooked to the TV. Oh wait – I do – It’s called a TiVo!!
    Just ad a universal internet browser. PLEASE

  25. I just got rid of Tivo this weekend. As much as I have loved Tivo over the past 9 years that I have had it, I can’t stand all the ads and all the crap on the screen. Plus paying 12.95/month was ridiculous. AS much as this pains me since I’m a linux Admin, I built a MS Vista Media Center HTPC that has an acceptable GUI and does what I want without all the crap and overhead. So far the only thing I am missing(I never uses Suggestions)was the ability to hit record halfway though the program and have it record the whole show(or whatever was in the buffer).

    Did not have time to setup MythTV(nor did I like the GUI) just wanted something that works. It’s way better than I expected. Very happy. So long tivo.

  26. Dave said there are “reasonable competitors” – I guess it depends on your definition of reasonable as used here. I don’t think there’s anything remotely close to TiVo. That being said (and being a 10 year customer), I can’t WAIT for a viable competitor. I’m so tired of the ads and the new ‘features’ they eek out from time to time. But mainly, it’s the ‘family’ test. My wife is pretty sharp, I suppose, but will she want to play around with some whack system like HP Media Center? Can my kids use it easily? Nope. That’s how Tivo stays alive.

    And to whoever said the new gui is evident with swivel search – yawn. See you in 5 years when it’s actually integrated in the whole system.

    I’ve been beating this drum for awhile now, but I’ll say it again. Tivo is TOAST once a solid competitor arrives. And I’ll be the first one to jump ship.

  27. I left Tivo a long time ago, once HD became the standard I made the move. I now use D* and as of this weekend they added the sports scores with a push of the button. If I want to switch and watch another game I just push “ok.” It’s done I am there watching that game. Tivo I personally think is hoping their deals with Comcast and D* pay off because that’s where the DVR business is now. It’s too easy to call up your provider and say “I want a new DVR, mines not working.” I recently had to take my parents Comcast DVR in becuase it was no longer working, within 20 mins I had a new one in hand and was back out the door.

    As for online streaming, I don’t buy that’s hurt Tivo that much (yet) most people don’t watch TV on their computers. They can’t figure out how to hook up their computer to the TV let alone network everything together.

  28. Tivo can’t be wholly blamed for the breakdown in negotiations with DirecTV, awful CableCard installs, or even switched digital video. However, because of all of this, it can make using a Tivo so damn difficult and the mass market won’t stand for it.

  29. FrankFurter: “Dave said there are “reasonable competitors” – I guess it depends on your definition of reasonable as used here. I don’t think there’s anything remotely close to TiVo. ”

    Agreed! After ReplayTV shut down and I went HD, I was more or less forced into TiVo since the crappy TWC DVR had barely enough space for six or so HD programs. My current alternatives are: FiOS DVR – no expandable storage, Windows Media Center – CableCard is wonky and entry price is EXPENSIVE, and the new Moxi, which is still mostly untested and also very expensive. It’s not that there’s things that I like about TiVo, but there’s a lot of things that need improvement, and they’re only keeping me as a customer because I have nowhere else to go.

  30. I agree with 1st poster. No all three. Pick a business model. Ad supported and free or paid with 0 ads. We understand it’s not an Uber-profitable business – but still. I bought a TiVo to AVOID ads.

  31. I’m still living with my two Series 2 boxes because I continue to try to find a good alternative to TiVo. I just don’t like the ads. To me, the analogy is all the extra crap that Dell, HP and others add on to their machines to juice their total revenues. Personally, I’m hoping to hear good news about the DTV pal DVR.

    I suppose ads -could- be integrated, but they are just not well done right now, and there is so much other work that could be prioritized ahead of it.

    For example, the ads under “Showcase …” could be done so much better. (1) give the user a Windows/Mac/Linux simple interface to have a user-driven order. Let ME put the “build your own Land Rover” at the bottom, because I’m never going to look at it. Or (2) Use some logic to have the “most used” rise to the top. Then (for me), I’d get Photos and wordsmith at the top.

    And make the ads relevant to me and my family. Dear TiVo, if you told me that you would listen to me and give me relevant ads, I’ll gladly fill out a website profile so that you can better target me. For example, we’re looking for a new car right now, and I’d love to see relevant ads for cars that fit our needs. And we always like to see new cameras that are coming out, so give me a “Camera” ad channel.

    But please, stop peppering ads all over the UI.

    My $0.02.

  32. We are leaving Tivo after 5 years. We have had problem after problem with the hardware breaking and everytime we have to send it back, they want more money. Yes we have lifetime service, but when will Tivo ever stand behind their hardware?

    We are going to give the cable company DVR a try. If the hardware breaks we can GET a new one not buy a new one.

    Sad day for us .. bye bye Tivo!

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