The Influence of TiVo

Padmasree Warrior, the chief technology officer of Motorola, said consumers now demand more from their televisions, largely thanks to TiVo, which has forced the cable companies to ask suppliers for more innovative set-top boxes. “Enough people are experienced with time-shifting that there’s a demand that the industry dynamics change,” Ms. Warrior said.
New York Times, Wed January 17

How influential is TiVo? TiVo is at once a lesson in how slowly an industry responds to a new idea and also how a relatively small group of enthusiasts helped create a whole new category of device, which was tougher to commoditize than most people thought. It is now to set-top boxes what Kleenex is to tissues. It is what the iPod is among MP3 players.

We first published TiVo Hacks by Raffi Krikorian in 2003. Since then, TiVo has appeared to be on the ropes several times. I was a user of the first TiVo but when I switched to Comcast, they didn’t offer it and I’ve used their rather limited Motorola box, which is TiVo like. I miss my TiVo. I’m not entirely sure why. It did just seem to work better. Over the years, they’ve added features so that you can take advantage of content that’s on your computer. It was an intermediary between the closed world of my TV/cable/dish system and the open world of the Internet. Meanwhile, the Motorola box thinks of itself as a slave to the cable provider, who did indeed provide it to me (for a fee). It’s always irritated me that they put USB and Firewire interfaces on the Motorola box but then disabled them. I don’t understand that.

In retrospect, TiVo was really the first computing device to cross the divide into the audio-visual territory where my TV lives. Someone else can argue whether TiVo as a business has a bright future, but I don’t think you can argue that it represented a change of control in the TV industry. It changed the cable companies and the networks, who all along wished it would just go away.