TiVo Sullies DVR Recordings with Video Ads

As I mentioned a mere 72 hours ago, TiVo’s been trialing additional advertising as part of a broader push to further monetize their platform. And now, andfy of the TiVo Community, has become an inadvertent beta tester of sluggish, lower res pre-roll video ads… that precede his DVR recordings. It looks (and feels) atrocious. See for yourself in the video embedded above.

When I play a recording the screen goes black with the spinning blue circle for a couple of seconds, then an advertisement plays for about 15 secs, then the recording starts. If you go back and play from the beginning you’ll see a different ad. The ones I remember seeing are for Toyota, Keurig and Amazon. It seems you can skip the ad by pressing fast forward but it’s not that seamless. […] But they look like SD low bitrate videos. Happened on every recording so far but there’s only been 5 recordings since I set it up.

Keep in mind TiVo has been a pioneer in this noxious space… they just haven’t executed as “well” as Roku and YouTube. But, before we collectively lose our minds, we’re likely missing some critical context here. As I previously suggested, in regards to TiVo+, more heavy handed advertising might be an effective way to lower the cost of entry – think reducing or dropping monthly fees, for those that choose. Also, pre-roll ads and commercial replacement are exactly the sort of the thing the cablecos wants to offer, so us retail customers may not even be the ultimate target audience.

UPDATE: Now we can lose our minds. Light Reading reached out to TiVo and it’s pretty much the worst case scenario.

“DVR advertising is going to be a permanent part of the service,” a TiVo spokesperson said in an emailed statement to Light Reading. “We expect to be fully rolled-out to all eligible retail devices within 90 days.” TiVo also confirmed that customers will be able to skip those pre-roll ads in much the same way they can skip commercials inserted in TV shows and movies recorded to the DVR.

So the ads are skippable. But, as currently implemented, it’s not going to be efficient… and may crash your box. LR inquired further with TiVo and will be updating their article to notate that Roamio, Bolt, and Vox hardware (running Hydra) will all receive the pre-roll treatment. And, given these new developments, I wonder if TiVo will reneging on their optional Hydra update promise. In any event, I’m hopeful the outcry helps them rethink this misguided strategy. You can’t sell ad impressions for customers you don’t have.

(Thanks for sharing the video andyf!)

59 thoughts on “TiVo Sullies DVR Recordings with Video Ads”

  1. If there is a place for this, it is similar to the way the Kindle advertising works. Sell me a lower priced TiVo with ads or a higher priced one without. Then allow me to pay if I get the ad-supported TiVo and change my mind.

    If I paid full price for my TiVo AND am paying you a monthly fee, you had better not stop me from watching my shows so you can throw advertising at me. It’s bait and switch at its worst.

  2. If this becomes mandatory, I will cancel my service. Guaranteed, 100%.
    I am one of the people who have chosen to pay a monthly sub because I want TiVo to survive and a monthly revenue stream is one way to help that. If I had paid for lifetime and were forced into this, I would be livid.

    Shall we start a pool on how much of an increased monthly fee it will cost to not have to watch them?? Imagine requiring lifetimers to now pay monthly to avoid these.. Sorry, but I always assume these companies are going to do the dumbest and most consumer unfriendly thing possible and the majority of the time I am not wrong. What are they thinking?? This is dumb, period. Do they really need to run a trial to figure that out? If so, the company is being run by morons now.

  3. Has TiVo ”jumped the shark”? I have loved the TiVo for almost 20 years. But I don’t like where it’s headed.

  4. It better be only for cable partners and/or to new customers who purchase knowing that the ads will be there.

    If this is rolled out to existing Lifetime Service / monthly customers, it will be the end of the TiVo as we have known and loved it.

  5. Dave, it also seems some of the ads are targeted to my location. I just saw an ad for a local car dealership and it was a normal length 30 sec ad.

  6. @William Aprea, I could see TiVo starting by shooting themselves in the foot with this and rolling out ads everywhere… followed by a rollback.

  7. The only way I’d accept this is if it would both reduce the retail price of the hardware and eliminate the monthly subscription fee. Otherwise, it’s a deal breaker for me.

  8. I’ve always thought that the best model for this was to *either* charge a monthly subscription fee, or charge every time you skip a commercial–say 1 cent per commercial, or 5 cents per commercial-grouping skipped.

    Just don’t MAKE me watch commercials. Give me choice.

  9. I’ve got the Bolt 500 (4GB now) with expensive lifetime all-in. I cut the cable so it’s OTA now. They better leave my box ad-free.

  10. When I bought my Bolt and four mini’s I shied away from the lifetime deal. Too much commitment. Glad I did.
    Xfinity will offer full content streaming to Inet service subscribers in the next few weeks. Byb bye cable.
    Roku is baked into my new set and coupled with Plex I’m convinced that I can’t see the value in Tivo anymore.
    I’ll miss you peanut but we’ve grown apart.

  11. Yep, agreed, if they do this to folks have have lifetime or paid sub (rather than folks who get a free or subsidized box) I’ll ditch it after a long, happy 15 yr run with Tivo. I hope they know they ‘commercial skipping’ base customers well enough to not fall into that trap, but we’ll see.

  12. Sigh,
    Silicondust, if you’re watching this foolishness, talk to Nvidia to add your OTA and Cablecard boards to a Nvidia shield.

  13. I have a lifetime Bolt, and had a lifetime Roamio before that. I’m a huge fan of Tivo, but if they force me to watch pre-roll ads they’ll lose me as a customer forever. I’ll simply go back to OTA and buy a Tablo or Channel Master. I really hope this is just a way to lower the cost of monthly subs for those that choose that path.

  14. Wait, what?
    The company that facilitates skipping ads (that finance the show’s we record) wants to insert their own ads on those same shows? I smell a lawsuit.

  15. The day I see that on my lifetime Roamio or Mini is the day I buy a Recast and explore putting an antenna in my attic.

    (Or downgrade from Hydra and live without auto skip)

  16. Nope, just nope. 15 year customer … I have a lifetime Bolt, and if they force commercials on me, I will stop buying and using Tivo. I still feel Tivo is the best DVR solution out there, bar none, but this would be a deal breaker.

  17. Been thinking about cutting the cord for a while but I’m hanging on to the cable cards because of my tivos. Thanks tivo for handing me a way to give up cable for good & tivo!

  18. 20 year customer, and this would be the final “nail in the coffin” for me and Tivo. The day I see an ad before a show on my lifetime box that I spent over $1000 on, that and the $350 mini goes into the recycling pile and I move on.

    Could I get more selling the box on eBay? Sure. But at that point, the principles I stand for won’t allow me to let that box make a single dime for Tivo.

  19. I’d be willing to have the ads on my tivos if tivo only charged us $99.00 for lifetime and i could still fast forward the pre show commericals. and still have ad skipping on my tivos. whys everybody so upset just fast foward the commercials when you towatch your program.

  20. I have 3 lifetime TiVo’s. This does not bother me that much.


    If the price I have to pay is 15 seconds of my time, then so be it. I have not given them a dime for about 10+ years (bought 2/3 used), and they continue to support my boxes and provide updates. (I’m sure they sell my info 100 times over, whatever, let them do what they can to stay viable)

    My Old TiVo’s already do more (have more features) than I paid for originally.

    I don’t get that people spend $1K on a new phone every other year, but expect a $500 TiVo Purchase to last forever. Yes, I get that Ads were not there when you signed up for lifetime. I understand the thought process completely.

    Just trying to keep things in perspective. Do you want a worthless $500 boat anchor when they go completely out of business or a $500 updated box with 15 second commercials?

    Sure they could toss existing or new customers a bone. Old Features (What you paid for) no change no ads, if you want new bells and whistles, then you deal with ads.

    Just TV, lots of other things to get riled up about in the world.

    My $0.02 Do what you need to do – Blessed Day!

  21. I have a TiVo OTA DVR setup in my house and it has been a great investment for the past 5 years. One OTA and one Mini with lifetime service ran me about $600 after having to replace the mini out of warranty. That comes to an all in cost of $10/month. I’m fairly happy with the service. My wife and kids don’t need to be engineers to understand it and the skipping of commercials is great.
    That being said, requiring me to watch commercials that were not part of the original product, would be enough to get me to give Amazon’s DVR a try.

  22. Efffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff this.

    This is fine for a TiVo with no service fees, but if you want me to pay for service (Lifetime or otherwise) and want me to watch pre-roll ads, you can eat me TiVo. I’m already have one foot out of the door and I’m using HDHomeRun + Channels/Plex. Don’t make it easier for me.

  23. Someone posted last week on TCF that they are going to start limiting downgrading from Hydra beyond just the Bolt OTA. That would make sense if this is tied to hydra as well.

    Has Ted said anything about these ads?

  24. ^ meaning that only devices *newer than* (and including) the Bolt OTA would still be able to downgrade? Or only devices *older* than the Bolt OTA? I hadn’t read that and now I’m curious.

  25. What I find so odd in this all is, the total uncertainty of what’s going on here. The pre-roll advert occurrences that have been reported are not part of a beta–at least, the TiVo consumers at TCF (TiVo Community Forum) who have reported getting the pre-roll adverts are not beta participants (well, willingly and to their knowledge). Is this a general roll-out of a new “feature”? Or did a beta escape into the general population? Thus far, it’s only been reported on TE4/Hydra boxes–no sightings on TE3 boxes yet.

    Interestingly, the TiVo customer service reps., who sometimes seem to be some of the last people to know something, have known all about the pre-roll adverts, when consumers have contacted TiVo (and apparently, many have done so, to complain–as acknowledged by reps.). But then, in typical fashion, contrary info. is given: one rep. says that TiVo can turn the “feature” off for a consumer (takes 72 hours); another rep. says, nope, the adverts can’t be turned off; and a third rep. says that TiVo is working on a setting to avoid the “feature.”

    Was this all a strategic move by TiVo, to see if people complain and then to adjust? Sadly, no word from TiVo about this all, apart from what customer service reps. are saying.

  26. I can’t hit the right arrow button fast enough. The ads are not relevant, repetitive, and do sour the experience.

  27. It looks like they are active streaming these. So I suspect a DNS Adblocker might intercept them. At the very least, a Gryphon Router w/Adblocking on, as well as blocking ad-domains might do the trick. We will have to see, I am sure there will be some way to block it. If not? Tivo is dead.

  28. You may be able to block. But if you block it, is Tivo smart enough to block the app loading or whatever the blue spinning thing is that calls it. Also what else might we inadvertently block. Guess we’re gonna have some projects and experiments to try.

  29. I have TIVO through my ISP known as RCN.
    They are a small regional ISP in northeast PA
    I am not seeing any TIVO commercials yet
    but I will let you know if I do.

  30. @Larry Schachter:

    “[The pre-roll ads] sour the experience.” And that is (one of) my fears. Even if the ads can be skipped with a button press, they are a speedbump. How much do people like speedbumps?

    I remember when TiVo brought out pause bar ads (which, fortunately, seemed to have been abandoned). Totally inobtrusive, when you think of it–they really didn’t interrupt anything or require any special action on the part of the user. But TiVo shoved an ad in the user’s face–it cheapened the experience.

    The only saving grace I can see here (apart from TiVo getting much-needed income) is, if the pre-roll ads “feature” can be turned off, either by the user on the local box or through a telephone call to TiVo customer service (there have been further reports of TiVo users being able to use the latter approach, although it’s too early to know if this actually works).

    In the meanwhile, at the very least, this seems like a PR fail on TiVo’s part. Still no actual word from TiVo itself about the new “feature”–instead, TiVo has left it to users to report (and complain about) in forums, and for 3rd-party reporters and commentators to expose.

  31. The verge just ran an article claiming TiVo confirmed this will be on all new interface boxes in the next three months, even lifetime. They have lost their minds.

  32. The Verge article is based on Light Reading’s reporting, which I previously linked in the comments. Light Reading will be updating their story as it’s not just Bolt — Roamio is also an “eligible” box. Wonder if Hydra will become mandatory. I’ve updated the post to reflect the new developments.

  33. I have purchased lifetime TIVO service multiple times for generation after generation of tivo, but I won’t be doing it again. If they show this willingness to degrade something I have already paid for then it seems clear that they could at any time do so again. Prior lifetime customers should be exempt from this but it sounds like we will not be.

  34. Omg what are they thinking. I paid them for the service and they are adding ads. Skipping ads are the reason I own a tivo. They come out with auto skipping and the new boss adds a manual skip ad.

    We are watching the death of TiVo. Who going to spend all this money for more ads? Time to see what options are out there to replace TiVo.

  35. I guess I should thank FiOS for having such abysmal video quality now(Although COmast is still much worse). It’s the entire reason I don’t use my TiVos much any more. And watch my broadcast content from streaming services where I don’t have any or I can quickly scan past them. I’m using my TiVos for news and documentaries now. Although they still look like ass on FiOS.

  36. I can’t believe they’re doing this. I’ll be ordering a Tablo tomorrow, and my Bolt will go on eBay as soon as we convert over. They lost me as a customer forever.

  37. Another longtime TiVo subscriber here, with a lifetime service plan on my Bolt. I’ve been seeing the ads and haven’t had any crashes from them (yet), but get frustrated every time I see that blue circle drawing before it starts to load another stupid ad. I’ve called into customer service and, after complaining and referencing the remarks on tivocommunity.com, my Bolt should stop getting the ads in 72 hours. It will be interesting to see if that works, and if it lasts.

  38. I knew TiVo’s acquisition by the jerks behind macROVIsion was going to go badly, but I’d kind of been lulled into thinking it was just going to be a matter of having to live with Rovi’s sh!tty guide service. Kudos to the fools at Rovi – they have managed to exceed my worst expectations.

    All my TiVos (including an OTA-ready Bolt recently acquired as a way to maintain TiVo-quality DVR functionality if/when I finally cut the cord) are LTS, so quitting isn’t really an option. But what Rovi is obviously too stupid to understand is that TiVos are now superior in exactly one aspect over competing solutions – the addictively smooth, responsive playback experience, unmatched by any DVR or streaming device that I’ve seen. Current generation TiVos are fair to middling streaming devices, easily outclassed by $50 streaming sticks, so the “one box to rule them all” sales pitch is a joke. What keeps me on TiVo is the maddening, sluggish sloppiness of playback control on streaming apps. Interrupt the flow of the UX and you destroy TiVo’s only trump card – if they don’t back off they’ll be dead inside two years.

  39. @idontspeakmonkey

    “I WANT TIVO TO SURVIVE […] I have not given them a dime for about 10+ years”

    So how much do you really want them to survive? Not enough to pay them any money for the service you’ve had from them.

  40. We’ve started getting these noxious ads on our TiVo Bolt + with Lifetime service just as Dave describes. No warning from TiVo. We initially thought they were part of the DVR recording but then broke the code.

    Were angry. These are irritating and require more steps and time to get to every recording. I’m calling TiVo today as others suggest to complain and attempt to get this noxious change turned off.

    Add this to the fact that we’re on our third TiVo Bolt + due to internal hard disk failures and we’re wondering if we should stay with this company after 15 years with them. Love the TiVo UI and functionality but they need to stop shooting themselves in the foot.

  41. So, how much of a refund do I get for my purchased hardware? I don’t care if I can skip it or not. It’s one thing to have commercials we can skip on the recordings we’ve made with hardware we’ve purchased. It’s quite another to add MORE advertising on top of it.

    Two things need to happen, they need to be auto skip capable and bitrate needs to be consistent so we don’t have handshake issues.

  42. Wow. I have a 4 tuner recast already deployed, and two Bolts with lifetime.

    The wife is the primary user of Tivo, as I have found myself using the recast more and more. But pre-rolling ads on my recorded Tivo content is a bridge too far.

    I think I will upgrade the wife’s primary viewing display to a firetv os set, and encourage the change to recast. I have already been adding and updating her recording season passes to the recast, so much of the recent library is on the recast. Couple the pre-roll with the the inconsistent performance of the Tivo apps (freeze and lockups) and I think it is time to move on.

    We have been Tivo customers for our OTA environment for over 25 years, but all things eventually come to an end.

  43. I would suggest hitting Twitter to voice our disgust. Noticing #cancelTiVo seems to be a good choice to get the message across.

  44. Annual subscriber here. Left Windows Media Center when the “Guide” accidentally on purpose became unreliable in the switch to ROVI. Don’t like the annual fee forvTivo but, I pay it because I’ve never had a problem with the Guide and I like skipping commercials. I especially like the new commercial auto skip. If advertisements start showing up on my Bolt, I’m going back to WMC. I swallow hard every December when Tivo renewal is due. Adverts will run me off. I’m paying a lot more than just for Guide service at the annual rate. If it’s not avoiding commercials, what am I paying for?

  45. @monkeyseemonkeydo: I–and likely, the earlier poster (idontspeakmonkey)–indeed have paid TiVo $ for its services, prepaid in the form of a Lifetime subscription. Apparently, TiVo likes that, as it continues to sell Lifetime and boxes with it.

  46. @Beamer: you can roll back Hydra to the older experience (TE3), but at the sacrifice of all recordings on the rolled-back TiVo. The only roll-back exception that I’m aware of is if you have a Bolt OTA model, which shipped with TE4 pre-loaded, and reports are from TCF users that the roll-back isn’t an option. I would assume that will be the case with the Edge and future Tivo units, as well.

    Along that line, I find it curious that TiVo hasn’t forced a TE4 upgrade to all users- maintaining and supporting two different version of software has to be quite a challenge (not to mention, an expense)- although perhaps the Premiere’s and older series 3 boxes can’t run TE4 from a hardware perspective.

  47. @Bill in NC: At least for now, the pre-roll ads “functionality” seems to be directed at the TE4/Hydra boxes. But the speculation (seemingly, purely that–no confirmation) in the press and otherwise has been that it *could* come to the earlier UI, TE3, as well.

    @Beamer: TE4 boxes *with the exception of the specifically-denominated “Bolt OTA” box* can be sidegraded back to the “classic”/TE3 UI. Note that all recordings on the box will be lost, but anything desired to be saved (apart from copyright transfer-limited shows) can be copied to a PC first, and then back after (if desired)–freeware pyTivo Desktop is a good, easy-to-install-and-use software for this. Rollback instructions (and a pyTivo Desktop discussion thread) can be found at the TiVo Community Forum (tivocommunity.com) (“How to Rollback Hydra from Roamio and Mini’s v1”–applies to Bolt boxes as well). :)

  48. I rolled back one of my Bolt units from TE4 to TE3 yesterday, but before running guided setup again, I rolled it right out of the AV cabinet, back into the box, in to a storage closet.

    We still have one 3TB Bolt active with TE3, that the wife predominately uses, so I’ll have an indication from her if pre-roll ads start appearing. For now, my DVR needs are satisfied through the use of a four tuner Recast.

  49. If you decide to roll back, you may want to check into “kmttg”. You can save your onepass settings as well as your recordings.

  50. Confirmed by TiVo today at TCF: pre-roll ads, being a new “feature,” are not being brought out on the TE3 UI, which is in “maintenance” (as distinct from the TE4 UI). (Of course, life changes.)

    Also, TiVo customer service reps. have the ability to opt a customer out of pre-roll ads, although eligibility seems to depend on various factors (tenure, service plan, etc.) and is not automatic.

  51. @Bobby: Yep, I’ve been wondering how much data the ads constitute. Even if not a large amount per ad, if a consumer watches all his/her tv shows through TiVo recordings (as many people do), it could add up.

  52. Yep, the day I start seeing ads in front of MY recording is the day I cancel my 3 monthly fees on my TiVo’s and move on.

    This is a pure money grab by Rovi and will do much more harm than good for the TiVo brand.

  53. I’m probably in the minority but I don’t mind this as long as they reduce my yearly fee of $150 per Tivo Bolt and that the advertisements will only occur at the beginning of the recording.

    I have two Tivo Bolts so I’m getting billed $300/year. I would love to see this fee be reduced.

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