Is DirecTV Sabotaging TiVo?


On a few separate occasions over the last couple weeks, I’ve received both inquiries and accusations suggesting that DirecTV is  out to get TiVo… given their underwhelming new DirecTV TiVo DVR. From our writeup last month:

It’s everything we expected, but nothing we hoped for. The unit features TiVo’s original standard definition user interface, now branded as their “Classic” UI, running on outdated DirecTV hardware. So it’s neither the best TiVo experience, nor is it the best DirecTV DVR.

Christopher Price of PhoneNews cornered TiVo at CES and pitched us with the provocative theory that “DTV is sabotaging TiVo by making their boxes inferior to DTV.” From his write-up lamenting DirecTV’s lack of TiVoToGo:

Representatives for TiVo blamed DirecTV squarely for not offering the technology on their units. TiVo even went as far as to say that they had offered DirecTV a solution that would ensure copy protection requirements for DirecTV, but that the service provider still mandated that TiVo remove TiVoToGo from the new generation of DirecTV-enabled TiVo HD units.

While many agree that this new DirecTV TiVo DVR isn’t very compelling, I find Chris’ theory of sabotage highly unlikely – verging on the preposterous. First, DirecTV and TiVo are not competitors. Second, DirecTV will take a bath if the deal doesn’t work out as they bankrolled development of this product and “has obligations to nationally market [TiVo], and those obligations are substantial.”  

Over on Twitter, I recently pointed out that DirecTV’s relationship with TiVo isn’t substantially different than their original partnership in many respects: DirecTV is the customer, they largely determine what TiVo features they’ll (pay to) implement. Where the current deal does differ is a higher commission to TiVo per subscriber and a reciprocal do-not-sue patent clause while in effect. Unfortunately, given the subset of TiVo features combined with such a long gestation period during which DirecTV upped their “in house” DVR offering, I can’t imagine the new DirecTV TiVo will be successful. Resulting in less (perceived) incentive for DirecTV to further invest… and I expect this partnership will ultimately unravel, to be replaced by a less risky and less costly licensing of TiVo intellectual property by DirecTV (to avoid their legal department). Which sounds more like good business rather than spiteful sabotage.

29 thoughts on “Is DirecTV Sabotaging TiVo?”

  1. I have to disagree with the notion that “DirecTV and TiVo are not competitors.” I can choose which of these services I want to use for my television viewing, and have actually gone to a TiVo Premiere setup without cable or satellite. I still enjoy 99% of the same programming that I did before and save a ton of money.

    I was a DirecTV customer for many years and spent at least 3 years being teased with “the upcoming DirecTV TiVo DVR” via the DirecTV website and media. Now that I see the product I am glad I didn’t wait any longer. Old interface, no room-to-room, no TiVo To Go, etc. Seems the only thing they got right was the TiVo remote.

    DirecTV seems to be simply fulfilling their orders from the court by putting out a box with TiVo on it and I don’t think there will ever be another version of this DVR. DirecTV will slowly but surely kick TiVo to the curb (again). Nice “thank you” to TiVo for introducing us all to the DVR don’t you think?

  2. To nomo on Investor Village… by “good business” I’m referring to DirecTV potentially cutting their losses and proactively attempting to work a favorable licensing deal with TiVo. You and I agree that good business is not putting out a crappy product. But a failure of foresight or vision, marketing, hitting target launch dates, etc do not necessarily equate to sabotage. Not to mention TiVo isn’t blameless.

  3. What is DirecTV’s motivation in bringing out their new TiVo? Is it just a backhanded method of handing money to TiVo to smooth over patent claims, cuz otherwise, it’s never seemed to have made much sense, no?

  4. I have both the new TiVo receiver and several DirecTV branded DVRs in my home (with the new HDUI). While the UI is not as pretty on the TiVo unit, I much prefer it to the DirecTV models. That said, I do think that DirecTV is subtlely trying to undermine the TiVo rollout. If you go the side by side comparison page on their website, you can see that are highlighting features that their branded units have that the TiVo one doesn’t (e.g., MRV). They do not list many of the features that both units share. BTW, I have MRV in my second home and can’t stand it. It crashes all the time, you can only watch on one remote unit at a time, you can’t manage recordings from the remote units and you can’t pause live TV on the remote units. Unless you live alone, the better solution is to have multiple DVRs

  5. FYI (follow-up) – The TiVo Premiere units offer this MRV (room-to-room viewing) and it works like a charm. I have two Premiere units and transfer shows between them regularly. Never had it fail/crash, not one time! And, just like they advertise with the DirecTV DVRs, I can pick up viewing a program in another room and not lose my place.

  6. It looks like DTV will be starting their national roll-out of the THR22 on Jan 30th –>

    Trolling the threads about the THR22 I’ve seen a lot of similar reactions to those of PeteP above. I will be interested to see TiVo’s strategy going forward with DTV. I believe they are required to hold-back a certain percentage of the monthly fee they are receiving from DTV for future development and its completely unclear at this point what future development really means with respect to TiVo on DTV.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if there may be something in the works behind the scenes related to an alternative approach with DTV that could possibly be a win-win for both parties.

    I can envision some alternative agreement as you stated being forged similar to the way Comcast forged a new agreement with TiVo last year.

  7. I got the new DirecTV TiVo a week ago, and I love it. I don’t know what else I could want it to do… as someone astutely pointed out, the TiVo GUI was so advanced and tremendous when it was introduced a decade ago that it’s hard to improve on.

    Looking carefully at the manual that came with the box, as well as at the onscreen menus, it seems to me that there are a few features that TiVo thought would be allowed on the box, which DirecTV nixed at the last minute (KidZone, sharing photos and music from your computer via a home network). I definitely fault DirecTV for the delays, and for anything that’s missing from the box.

  8. I have to disagree with the notion that “DirecTV and TiVo are not competitors.” I can choose which of these services I want to use for my television viewing

    Not exactly… DirecTV primarily makes money offering premium television subscriptions. TiVo primarily makes money offering DVR software services. TiVo can’t sell you programming.

    The thought probably was that DirecTV could keep existing and former DTiVo users happy with a renewed collaboration and perhaps lure some customers away from DISH or various cable providers. There’s no significant benefit for DirecTV to fail moving this product given the millions spent in R&D, integration, marketing, training.

  9. I have to agree with you Dave, I don’t think DirecTV is sabotaging TiVo. Neglecting, yeah. Mismanaging, perhaps. Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence or stupidity.

  10. DirectTV has every motivation to make Tivo compete with one arm tied behind it’s back with it’s own DVR. Truly naive to think that DirectTV would want a majority of it’s DVR subscribers to use TiVo. Whatever deal they have struck for development, the cost is far less than if subscribers moved over to a TiVo box. DirectTV is doing only just enough to not get sued by TiVo. After all, DirectTV has made millions and millions off of TiVo’s intellectual property without paying TiVo close to a fair amount. DirectTV might keep some of the TiVo faithful with the stripped down version, but it certainly won’t bring anyone over from their current provider. If DirectTV wanted to differentiate it’s offering, they would realize that the full featured TiVo might keep all their subs from leaving when full IPTV (like Apple) comes on-line. Pride will crush DirectTV.

  11. If DirectTV wanted to differentiate it’s offering, they would realize that the full featured TiVo might keep all their subs from leaving

    Maybe. Or maybe DirecTV’s 5 tuner DVR, new HD UI, and whole-home functionality is equivalent to or even exceeds TiVo’s offerings. Regardless, I’m not sure how much DirecTV needs to differentiate their DVR offering. By and large most consumers don’t seem to care – one reason why TiVo remains a bit player here in the US.

  12. As someone who had a series 1 Sony-branded TiVo and convinced countless family and friends to buy TiVos over the years, I have to admit that DirecTV’s generic DVR with the new HD interface is really, really good.

    I signed up for DirecTV several years ago and unfortunately didn’t do my homework to realize my series 1 with lifetime service wouldn’t work with DirecTV. I grudgingly took DirecTVs DVR and eventually paid to upgrade to their HD-DVR. They had a few problems early on, but now it is a very well designed machine.

    I was super excited to hear that DirecTiVos were coming back until I saw the lack of features on them. If I read correctly, I can’t really think of any big features TiVo can do, that a generic DirecTV DVR can. At least the DirecTV boxes allow me to do some on-demand downloads from the limited selection available. The vast majority of DirecTV customers are going to choose the cheaper generic boxes, not because of anything TiVo did wrong, but because DirecTV limited it to SD menu, took out Netflix search integration, took out TiVoToGo, etc.

    If our budget gets bad enough, an HD TiVo with antenna and Netflix is still my preferred budget alternative to cable/satellite. The only thing holding me back from doing it now is being able to watch our local MLB team.

  13. “I recently pointed out that DirecTV’s relationship with TiVo isn’t substantially different than their original partnership in many respects: DirecTV is the customer, they largely determine what TiVo features they’ll (pay to) implement. ”

    Well as a former owner of an original Directv Tivo unit, I bought with the notion to enable the features they disabled. There were hacks to get the program data wirelessly via the command port. USB took some time, but I needed a better HD. A better drive with more storage made the UI more responsive.

    As for the notion that DirecTV is sabotaging …. Well, that’s not what their marketing people feel. I switched 2 1/2 years ago to Comcast, for a cheaper deal & DVR. I’ve since adopted a HDHomerun Prime/CC/WMC setup. Better!! But still not Tivo.

    DirecTV is a competitor among other satellite providers. And people switched because their Tivo’s eventually died. It may not be the best Tivo, but if that gets them back some subscribers. And there’s enough die hards out their who wanted it, and DirecTV made the deal.

    Sabotage really?

  14. I’m shocked anyone is defending this mess. Who announced their new DVR on the same day as the TiVo?

    But then it’s TiVo who kept getting into these terrible agreements — Comcast anyone?

  15. “There’s no significant benefit for DirecTV to fail moving this product given the millions spent in R&D, integration, marketing, training.”

    But surely DirecTV also spent millions developing their own, non-TiVo DVR.

    While there might not be a direct benefit to pushing the TiVo boxes, there might be disadvantages to doing so (increasing their dependence on a third-party, perceived notions of wasting money on internal solutions, etc.)

  16. I think Chris from PhoneNews may have something here.

    How much were Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon rivals to DirecTV in ’08? How much are they today?

    When you look at TiVo moving to boxes and TiVo-enabled HDTVs that don’t even talk to an MSO, you start to see where it’s not crazy that TiVo could be preparing to launch its own IPTV network.

    Hampering and creating confusing TiVo solutions would be a nice shot across the bow.

  17. MZ, yeah we could write several follow up posts discussing how folks treat companies and products as sports teams or anthropomorphize these business entities.

    Dean-l, I guess that’s my point… they’re both DirecTV’s new DVRs. ;) And, yeah, the Comcast Motorola TiVo initiative that never deployed further than New England was a debacle. But I’d say in that case, TiVo carried more of the blame than they might in this one and perhaps underestimated the integration challenges. They’re smarter now as we’ve seen from Virgin and what I expect to see from Charter.

    James, I assume they were hedging their bets that TiVo could be a draw. But they’re way late and have probably discovered that Sunday Ticket means more to their bottom line than one’s DVR software.

    Jim, but the most confusing TiVo solution of all is that Best Buy TiVo-enabled HDTV you mention. No guide, no DVR, but the TiVo UI? By the by, I assume sales have been disastrous and that initiative is not long for this world. (I’ve often pined for a TiVo Blu-ray player.)

  18. I’m with you Dave. Tivo is screwing up enough all by themselves to explain this, along with typical multi-company mis-management. I agree with you and Mega that Hanlon’s Razor explains most of this.

    Look, I love Tivo and all, in fact I just installed an Elite in my living room (now waiting patiently for 20.2…) but they’ve been pretty much incompetent for years now. It takes them forever to release new hardware. Features have been few and far between for a long time. Their software is generally slow and laggy and unstable and they can go years without fixing these problems. They’ve expended effort on lots of things (Comcast Tivo UI, Flash…) that any rational person could have predicted would fail. Etc. Etc.

    As for Tivo-To-Go, hey I love the feature, and use it all the time. But its most useful BECAUSE its so easy to bypass. Seriously, you just pull the output from the other side of their DirectX filter. Its the simplest form of “copy protection” known to man.

    And its not like DirecTV is alone in nixing TTG. Lots of Cable companies that offer Tivo units don’t allow it either. Not sure why, other than the obvious–THEY DON’T WANT YOU TO BE ABLE TO DO THAT.

  19. The fact remains that directTV is not an ISP like Comcast or Time Warner. What happens to Dish and DTV when TV Is provided via IP? At least the cable providers can keep that part of their revenue. The writing is on the wall for all traditional providers but more so for DTV. Adapt or die DTV. A la carte ip options are coming from Apple and surely others. Sure TiVo would be a great hedge but you would have to allow your users to stream Netflix, Amazon, etc via TiVo at the expense of revenue going to you, but the alternative is much worse for DTV. Comcast VOD via TiVo shows that Comcast gets it. DTV apparently does not.

  20. we all slip into such an easy group think in DVR related threads/forums. Most other folks do not really care about the DVR. If it can record a show for the few times they might miss watching it live they think, great. Some percentage might even not watch right away and thus FFwd commercials.
    It took years of my wife and kids having TiVo DVRs in the house to get the real beauty of a DVR as a box that lets you watch shows whenever, save up 4 or 5 shows even and being able to watch the show in some other room is just some perk. Took them years to get that.

    so hwen we go on about features and how DirectTV is trying to sabotage a DVR — the vast bulk of customers would not even know or care – to them a DVR is a nice to have versus the must have we DVR geeks tend to view them as

  21. ZeoTiVo,

    I’ve missed your posts on TCF since you went to “Lurker Status”!

    Its very difficult for us DVR geeks to step back and think like a normal DVR consumer. That’s a major reason why TiVo has sunk to the depths of going out of business until Tom Rogers figured out an alternative strategy to deal with the multiple infringers on their DVR patent.

    Glad to see you are still lurking and hope to see you back on TCF. The tone is starting to change over there with the new “communications strategy” TiVo is extolling.

  22. Nice post ZeoTivo. You’re completely right of course. A friend of mine has the new Tivo on DirecTV and thinks its fine. Doubt he thought about it a whole lot honestly, his wife is just used to the interface.

  23. Tivo is sort of a competitor… You would subscribe to cable (not directv) if you really wanted the TiVo premiere HDUI and iPad app.

    I think DirecTV would rather promote their HDUI, up sell the $3 / month MRV, and try and push their locked down iPad app (doesn’t work on jailbroken devices) and even try to sell Nomad.

    If a full blown TiVo premiere with full HDUI (a la virgin media) along with MRV, TiVo to go and iPad app came to DirecTV, too many people would be paying for TiVo boxes, not DirecTV boxes.

    DirecTivo is a 2006 product. It’s just not relevant now. The new HDUI just released works great and looks nice.

  24. Nice discussion, I agree with Pete, I even mentioned to a directv csr (while trying to fix a defective Hr 422 that my series one TiVo (still working after 11years) was a product that “hit a home run” way back then. It was like a Toaster, simple and worked perfectly. I cannot wait to dump this clunky hr 24 in favor of the new Directv TiVo.

  25. I got my DirecTV HD Tivo unit over a year ago. I agreed to a 2 year contract. I like the interface, but they have purposely crippled the Tivo to encourage subscribers to go with the DirecTV HD DVR (Genie). I have both. I cannot access the shows from the DirecTv DVR from the Tivo HD DVR and vice verca. The Tivo no longer offers access to Mac OS X users and the there is no iPad or Android connectivity with Tivo. The DirecTV HD DVR iPad /Android offering is good in terms of quality, but only some channels and no regular network channels (seams to me these should be free.) Also figure out a way so I can watch them on my mobile device live over wifi and cellular if I want. They are limiting the content and technology because of stupid contractual agreements. None of the providers are doing it right. I wish Apple would buy Netflix and become a stronger competitor in this space. As it is, I think I am switching to Comcast when my 2 year contract expires. Or perhaps that is when DirecTV will have a more attractive offering in this space. Is anyone listening?

  26. Left Direct years ago for a standalone TiVo and have never looked back due to Directs’ unfair abandonment attitude.

Comments are closed.