Tivo recently reported a quarterly profit, suggesting that the company’s fortunes may be stabilizing after having lost much of its marketshare to generic DVRs from content providers. When I logged into my DirecTV account last week I was pleasantly surprised to see a Tivo receiver now being offered alongside competing house models. This is a good sign for those of us who have been around long enough to appreciate the changes Tivo ushered in to many homes like ours over the years.
Not long ago, I told my children that I planned to take their mom to dinner and a movie. They were excited that a baby-sitter would be watching them for the evening until I told them their grandma would be the person in charge.
“Grandma doesn’t know how to work the Tivo.” came the reply from my oldest daughter.
Thankfully, grandma has a good sense of humor, but my daughter’s comment underscores how prevalant DVRs and on-demand media have become.
Less than a decade ago, I missed the season finale of Survivor because I got caught in traffic. That my coworkers discussed the outcome the next days just rubbed salt in my wound. Those days are long gone. Now I expect to be able to locate, purchase and watch every episode of The Wire or Homeland from my couch.
But it was Tivo that started the time-shifting standard in our home, and it wouldn’t be an understatement to say that it has changed our life as much as any device in the past 15 years. If I wanted to watch Conan at 7 am on a Sunday morning, I could do it. What if I wanted to catch a 90210 marathon in the middle of the day? Hell yes, if you had a Tivo and a Season Pass.
Although Tivo become the standard by which all other DVRs would be judged, it has had its fair share of problems. Satellite providers such as Dish and DirecTV quickly added DVRs to help differentiate their services from cable companies. It also suffered the fate of such brands like Kleenex and Xerox where Tivo became both the noun and verb that described the entire cesspool of user-unfriendly DVRs.
But it wasn’t long before time-shifting and later, ad-skipping features came under fire from the studios. Anyone who owned a Tivo knew how to activate the 30 second skip by hitting SELECT-PLAY-SELECT-3-0-SELECT. Once activated all it took was hitting the button four or five times and commercials became a thing of the past. It was the secret handshake into the world of Tivo fanatics.
My first Tivo was a combination DirecTV receiver and Tivo referred to as the DirecTivo. The teardrop remote and gorgeous interface haven’t been matched since, which is a shame. My kids could pickup the Tivo remote and immediately bring up recordings of Scooby Doo or Harold the Purple Crayon. If Apple had designed a DVR in the 90’s I’m convinced it would have looked similar to Tivo.
Unfortunately, being early to market and having a pretty face doesn’t guarantee success. Although Tivo has survived it has generally been pushed to the sidelines by inferior models from Motorola and Dish and DirecTV branded receivers that lack the elegance of that first Tivo. When a company is relying on lawsuit settlements to stay in business, you can bet its days are numbered, and that’s where Tivo stands today.
My DirecTV receiver can record two programs at once, but the remote control is an abomination. Most buttons are the same sized and situated in a manner only a person with Hulk-sized hands could navigate. It also included four colored but unlabled buttons I’ve year to decipher. So here we are years later stuck with an inferior product. Yet so few people used the early versions of Tivo that they have no idea what they are missing. But I’ll always consider Tivo to be the gold standard of DVRs. Even if it took grandma a few visits to learn the secret handshake.