Mark Suster on the Future of TV

Mark Suster is an investor in new net-based TV startups and in this 10 minute talk he breaks down ten reasons why Internet TV is ready to disrupt the industry. His full list of points and explanations is available on his blog, and in a presentation format.

It's a great bunch of ideas that take note of the weird transition period we are currently in. When I was giving away my old TiVo, I had trouble finding any close friends with a HD cable package that could even use the device. Almost everyone I know is either cutting cable completely for internet video, or cutting way back on their cable plans to the absolute bare minimums. My friends tend to be technology canaries in the coal mine, but the writing is on the wall, and in the next few years we'll definitely see a mainstream switch to online video (and cancelations of cable TV plans).

November 17, 2011 in News, Op-Ed | Permalink | Comments (0)

No live TV streams: Here’s why?

Over the years, there have been fierce bat­tle between the con­tent play­ers and con­tent car­ri­ers over such fees, lead­ing, for exam­ple, to TV sta­tions not being avail­able on cer­tain cable chan­nels as pres­sur­ing tac­tics dur­ing nego­ti­a­tions. Part of the rea­son is that some of the con­tent play­ers are now also owned by con­tent car­ri­ers, lead­ing to sit­u­a­tions where large con­glom­er­ates that own both car­ri­ers and cre­ators look to get an advan­tage by forc­ing higher trans­mis­sion fees on their competitors.

via www.tnl.net

A good essay on some reasons why streaming live TV isn't even offered these days, and why it may be a long time coming.

November 7, 2011 in Op-Ed | Permalink | Comments (0)

Marco and Rafe on the future of TV, decline of cable & TiVo

It was an odd coincidence this morning to see two people with personal blogs I follow both talk about TV and the possible future ahead. 

Marco mentions how he and his wife no longer have cable or watch live TV -- it's all on demand, Netflix or AppleTV stuff and he goes on to describe how in the new Steve Jobs book there is a passage about possibly reinventing TV in the same way Apple tackled music players, cellphones, and tablet computing.

Rafe talks about the decline of TiVo and how it really needed to be included as software for cable companies in order to succeed and how their future looks grim as young people move away from TV towards more internet streaming.

Rafe's point about people moving away from broadcast cable TV reminded me of how last week when I upgraded my TiVo to the latest Elite version, I thought of my circle of friends when thinking who could have my TiVo Premiere with lifetime service I bought a couple years ago. I literally had to go about ten people down before I found someone willing to take it, and even they didn't have a full cable package and mostly wanted to record OTA signals. My circle of friends includes a lot of early adopter geek types, but if they are the canary in the coal mine for cable companies and TiVo, know that they are moving in droves to downloaded content instead.

October 24, 2011 in Op-Ed | Permalink | Comments (2)

Why is TV gear so proprietary and weird, and how can it get better? (guest post)

Pk_logo_smallEd note: What follows is written by John Bergmayer of Public Knowledge, the non-profit group that "preserves the openness of the Internet and the public's access to knowledge, promotes creativity through balanced copyright, and upholds and protects the rights of consumers to use innovative technology lawfully."

I've linked to Public Knowledge in the past when issues around CableCARDs and Internet access have come up. They do great work and when John contacted me to say that the cable companies are trying to kill the latest initiative to broaden consumer choice (a new CableCARD-like technology called AllVid) I asked him to write something up.

Last week I wasted an hour with a cable company rep trying to move my CableCARD from one TiVo to a new one and like all the other times, it required a scheduled visit from someone that had never worked with a CableCARD before (I've probably seen 6 or 7 techs in the past five years and I'm always the only customer they've met using CableCARDs). It took a couple calls from the tech to the corporate headquarters to re-authorize the card and in the end the tech said I would miss all the on-demand stuff anyway. Oh well.


Why is TV gear so proprietary and weird, and how can it get better?

You can use any computer with any ISP: you don't have PC-only or Mac-only Internet providers, and people don't expect to rent their computers from Comcast or Verizon. Because of the subsidy model, mobile phones are more complicated, but there are global standards for mobile phone networks, and if you get an unlocked phone you can use it with any compatible carrier.

But pay TV didn't work out that way. Different MVPDs (multi-channel video distributors, the term that encompasses cable and satellite as well as newer telco-provided services like FiOS TV and AT&T's U-Verse) each use different technologies, and with minor exceptions which we'll get to, as a result you basically have to rent set-top boxes and other equipment from your MVPD.

An engineer might say that there's a reason for this--different cable networks sprouted up at different times in different ways, and each handled the transition to digital differently. Satellite and telco TV are, technologically, entirely different.

But Internet access is provided over the most heterogenous group of technologies you can imagine. You have dial-up, DSL, cable modems, satellite, fixed wireless, mobile wireless, different flavors of fiber connections, and more. Yet there's a simple model that makes sure that you don't need to throw away your computer gear every time you get a new ISP--the gateway model. Cable, DSL, and fiber "modems" all translate from whatever protocols that different ISPs use internally into something your computer can understand, such as ethernet or WiFi. There's nothing technologically impossible about standardizing a service over different kinds of networks.

No, the reasons why you (usually) have to use provider-supplied equipment to access MVPD services are business ones. Standardization is not in the interest of pay TV providers, because they all would like to keep as much control of the user experience as possible. They want you to see their services, they want you to use their VOD, they want to upsell you. They view talk about increasing competition in video devices as consumer electronics manufacturers and Internet companies trying to muscle in on their turf, and argue that they need to provide complete user experiences, and not just raw video feeds. (I'd going to argue that this is a false choice.)

The problems with this are twofold: One, letting providers keep top-to-bottom control of the user experience has been a recipe for stagnation. TV technology advances as a glacial pace compared with mobile telephony, computers, and other areas of consumer electronics. Competition, almost entirely missing from the video device market, drives those areas forward. Two, it's against the frickin' law. Please excuse my legal mumbo-jumbo.

In the 1950s and 60s, the courts and the FCC repeatedly said that AT&T was behaving unreasonably when it refused to allow "foreign attachments" to the telephone network--every telephone used to be rented from Ma Bell, and showed up as a line item on your monthly bill. In Hush-A-Phone v. United States, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals said that AT&T had to allow a company to market a privacy-protecting muffler device that attaches to telephones. In its Carterfone decision, the FCC said that AT&T had to allow people to use any harmless device with their telephones. (The device in question was a kind of cradle that allowed people to connect telephones to a radio system--so that someone on a CB radio, for instance, could be connected to someone via telephone.) The FCC followed this up with an order requiring that AT&T deploy a standard connection interface to make it easier for people to purchase their own telephones, and use devices like answering machines, fax machines, and modems. The "registered jack" standards that resulted, coupled with rules that prevented the phone company from keeping its customers from using their phone lines to dial into BBSs or ISPs, are partly responsible for the growth of the consumer Internet. It's hard to predict what kinds of innovations might develop if people were as free to interconnect with MVPDs as they are with the phone network. (That's kind of the point.)

To follow up on this successful policy, in the 1996 Telecommunications Act, Congress told the FCC to "adopt regulations to assure the commercial availability, to consumers of multichannel video programming and other services offered over multichannel video programming systems, of converter boxes, interactive communications equipment, and other equipment used by consumers to access multichannel video programming and other services offered over multichannel video programming systems, from manufacturers, retailers, and other vendors not affiliated with any multichannel video programming distributor." (This is Section 629 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, and it's been codified at 47 U.S.C. § 549.)

The FCC's implementation of this is CableCARD--a little piece of electronics that's supposed to slot into third-party devices to let them communicate with a given cable provider. But the problems with CableCARD are obvious to anyone who's ever tried to use one. Cable companies have never been thrilled with them and as a result they're a pain to get--often requiring a site visit from a technician. (Third-party cable modems are much easier to set up, usually just requiring a phone call. That's because broadband companies don't gain much value from controlling the modem--they usually just provide one as a convenience.) Cable companies have subsidized their rental boxes with service fees, which can make CableCARDs seem like an unnecessary expense. They can't access on-demand content--and as entire cable channels are sometimes sent down the wire only when someone wants to watch them (these are called "switched digital" channels), that means that CableCARD devices can't even access a subscriber's entire programming line-up. And, of course, CableCARDs only work with cable--other MVPDs are mostly left out. Recently the FCC has taken some great steps to improve the CableCARD process--but there's only so much you can do to improve a model that's fundamentally inadequate. CableCARD does make it so that some people--mostly tech and TV enthusiasts--are not stuck using equipment rented from their cable providers. But it's fallen far short of the broad ambitions of the law, and has not done nearly enough to crack open the TV.

That's why the FCC proposed something called "AllVid"--a system modeled on the gateway approach that works for broadband, where each MVPD would have to convert its proprietary back-end technologies into an industry standard that the competitive consumer electronics industry can build against. People would be able to make more uses of content, view it on any screen in the house (such as smartphones, tablets, and computers), and seamlessly integrate online video sources with MVPD video. Importantly, AllVid would open up a lot of the things that are already possible for the kind of people who read this blog, to average users. They could go into a store, buy a device like a TV with an integrated PVR, and have it "just work" when they got home, regardless of who their provider is.

There has been a lot of debate about exactly what AllVid means: Would MVPDs have to use it for devices they themselves provided or could they use private technologies? Would AllVid provide electronics with a simple protocol for accessing video, like UPnP or DLNA, or would it provide some kind of user interface for third-party devices to render? This technical debate is rather moot for the moment, however. The MVPD lobby has pushed back on the FCC on AllVid pretty hard, and apart from a few meetings and discussions, nothing's happened to bring it closer to reality in months. I think the MVPD opposition to AllVid is misplaced: if they allow outsiders to innovate, they will only increase the demand for their services, in a time when leading edge of tech-savvy viewers have given up on cable altogether, and the most interesting TV products (like the Apple TV and Roku) don't even bother trying to hook into MVPD content. True, they'd have to give up a little control, and their content might be displayed right next to competing content from services like Netflix, iTunes, and Amazon Instant Video. But even in an AllVid world, MVPDs would be free to provide equipment to customers directly, just as they do today, and certainly many viewers would stick with what's familiar.

In the meantime, MVPDs have--very slowly--gotten better. Cable systems are rolling out apps that let their viewers watch some channels on some devices while they're in the home. Telco MVPDs have leapfrogged cable and offer superior interfaces, better simultaneous viewing capabilities, and (with U-Verse) even let you use an XBox instead of a regular set-top box. That's progress, but it still falls short of what could happen if there were a real nationwide standard.

So, what can you do? The primary thing is to be an informed, demanding consumer. Use CableCARD devices, no matter how much of a pain your cable system makes them. They're still better than the boxes they want to rent to you. Let your provider know there's demand for products beyond what they offer. Make a lot of noise online. If you can, cut the cord and get your video from the Internet--all the content isn't there, but services like Netflix blow away MVPDs in terms of their ease of use, and the devices you can watch them on. Voting with your wallet can be remarkably effective. If you really want to get your hands dirty, you can file a comment in the FCC's AllVid docket (number 10-91). Sometimes agencies need a little encouragement to enforce laws that have been on the books for fifteen years.

If you love MVPDs, you should want them to get better. AllVid is the tough medicine that they need, but it's hard work to get them to take it.

October 24, 2011 in Op-Ed | Permalink | Comments (1)

2000s: The Decade of DVR

For my last post at PVRblog, i wanted to do a quick recap of the previous ten years, talk about how my own media habits have changed and ask a few friends how PVR technology has impacted their lives as we look back at a decade of innovation.

Decade-of-dvr Through the lens of PVRblog it's easy to call 2000-2010 the "Decade of DVR". TiVo and ReplayTV both formed at the tail end of the 90s, offering digital recorders for the bleeding edge technologist, typically recording only about 7-8 hours of TV and costing around a thousand dollars. By mid-2000, the devices started to catch on as prices came down to the $300-500 range and recording capacities increased to 30 hours. Early adopters couldn't shut up about the device and "TiVo" quickly became a household word and associated with all digital recording devices.

Throughout the 2000s, TiVo had its ups and downs, Replay came and went, Microsoft entered the game, a variety of free software clones emerged, and a whole rash of free somewhat feature-limited cable & satellite company provided DVRs flooded the market. The DVR went from expensive device for geeks in 2000 to a broadband research group finding in late 2009 that over 1/3 of all US households have some form of DVR in use. That's incredible growth for a device that kicked off a revolution and changed the way Americans watched and interacted with television.

As DVR use increased (and continues to climb), advertisers, networks, and studios have been in a panic for much of the decade. Even top flight award-winning shows are featuring product placement (Mad Men, 30 Rock) that can't be avoided while some advertisers purposely slow down on-screen messages so DVR fast-forwarders catch the ads. Studies show that DVR users still watch some (sometimes more, and more often) commercials and the data from DVR users is so detailed every year TiVo can declare which Super Bowl commercial was most-watched (and re-watched). What the future holds is unknown, but an overwhelming majority of DVR owners say they can't live without the technology and the numbers will continue to grow. The challenges ahead for content producers will be how to get paid for their work, either directly in a iTunes/AppleTV model, or through innovations in advertising. At the same time, the medium of TV itself is in competition with internet sites like YouTube and Hulu for viewer attention. All through this passing decade, the DVR landscape has grown by leaps and bounds and shows no sign of stopping.

My own story

Being a gadget freak working in the web industry, I'd followed both TiVo and Replay's early news and anticipated someday getting a unit. I grew up sitting in front of a TV for hours a day and though programmable VCRs got smarter, it was nearly impossible to track multiple shows at multiple timeslots without some serious time spent setting each show up. In mid-2000, TiVo threw a contest and gave away hundreds of TiVo boxes in an essay contest that many early bloggers participated in, including me. My wife and I quickly fell in love with the device as we had two busy professions and didn't get home in time to see many of our favorite shows.

I remember the sense of freedom having a DVR provided, that I was no longer bound to be at home at a certain time if I wanted to see something, but also the wonderful feeling of being able to set aside some time to be entertained and knowing there was always a dozen options of my very favorite shows to watch whenever I wanted. At first I watched much less TV, on the order of just a couple hours a week of my 2-3 favorite shows, but the Season Pass feature worked so well that eventually you are following 30-40 shows and I was watching more (but better!) TV. Still, having a TiVo around meant I could concentrate on important stuff around the house like my family and my work, and make time for entertainment when I needed it. I literally became more productive because of TiVo.

Needless to say I became a huge fan, scoured sites for tips and tricks, wrote so many emails to friends encouraging them to get their own that I eventually started this site just to make it easier on me to put everything I knew about DVRs in one place. To this day I love my Series 3 TiVo as well as my hacked AppleTV running Boxee that both meet my entertainment needs. That combination of devices lets me watch almost anything on TV or online that I like, whenever I want. My four year old daughter has never known a world without a DVR, and the few times we've been at a relative's house or in a hotel, she's been disappointed that the TV seemed "broken" and didn't have several dozen options for her favorite shows a button click away.

But enough about me, here are some leading technology buffs talking in their own words about how their relationship with TV changed in the past ten years, thanks to the almighty DVR.

Adamsavage Adam Savage, co-host of Discovery Channel's Mythbusters

Time shifting has had a radical effect on the way I watch tv. For one, I often have a hard time knowing what networks my favorite shows are actually on, let along when it's actually aired. I'm used to (and paced for) watching large chunks of my favorite shows all at once.  I never watch LOST as it airs. I watch in weeks after airing in 3-5 episode chunks. Once per season I'll actually make time to watch a particularly excellent show when it airs (for the last two years it's been Mad Men) and even then, we usually lag about an hour behind just because we're no longer forced to pace ourselves to the schedule.  So we don't.

When I stay in a hotel, and I have to watch the commericals (or mute them) I can't believe 1. how many there are, and 2. how long the disclaimers are on the drug commercials (when "depression" is a SIDE EFFECT, perhaps you should choose another option). I find myself wanting to pause everything I missed to hear it again.  In 30 second bumps. The radio, a movie in a movie theater, my kids. I really found myself wanting to do a 30 second bump DURING A STAGE MUSICAL.

Time shifting is one of those "oh well of COURSE it should work that way" kind of inventions that seems inevitable and immediately crucial, like answering machines. Once that pandora is out of it's box there's no putting it back in.

HeatherarmstrongHeather Armstrong, Author, creator of Dooce

I think Leta was about 15 months old, and one Saturday morning she woke up at some ungodly hour. So I took her out to the living room to let Jon get a few more hours of sleep. I sat down on the couch, flipped on the television and clicked around looking for cartoons when I stumbled upon an episode of Sesame Street. I thought she'd find it totally boring, but she was TRANSFIXED.  So much so that she made it clear that when it was over her life could not go on. I think there was screaming involved.

Thankfully I was quick enough on my feet that early in the morning to have pressed record the moment I saw that she was interested, so I started it back at the beginning and she sat there and watched it — I am not even kidding — five times in row. I'd go back to sleep and then wake up when it was over and start it all over again. Some parents would call that neglect. I call it THANK GOD FOR TIVO.

That episode remained on our TiVo for YEARS. And it was Sesame Street that taught her the alphabet and how to identify letters. I love that I could pull up any number of recorded episodes of Sesame Street  AT ANY TIME and she'd stop whining and start learning! I can't directly link that first episode of Sesame Street with the fact that at five-years-old she can read at an almost third grade level, but I wouldn't be surprised!

NickdentonNick Denton, founder of Gawker Media (including Gizmodo)

My relationship with TV has changed entirely. I used to disdain the medium. That was partly out of English snobbery. And, when I lived in San Francisco, nobody ever seemed to talk about shows. The English snobbery was overlaid with geek detachment. The DVR -- and a move to New York -- has changed all that. There's more buzz about shows, or at least I'm more aware of it. And the DVR allows someone to have a social life and still watch TV when one stumbles home. It's not so much appointment TV as TV that arranges itself around ones appointments. I've become an addict. 30 Rock, Damages, Nurse Jackie, Dexter, Bored to Death -- even Desperate Housewives, though I'm embarrassed by that one. TV is so much more reliably entertaining than the movies. And -- waiting for me on the DVR -- so much more convenient. So thanks, technology, for finally turning me into a goggle-eyed moron.

GinatrapaniGina Trapani, Author, Tech Blogger, Founding Editor of Lifehacker

In 1999, I barely watched TV. I thought television was a waste of time, even though I secretly felt left out when my friends talked about their favorite shows. Then TiVo--also known as The Best Christmas Gift Ever!! in my house--converted me. Without timeshifting, I would have missed out on some of the best shows ever created (and the conversations about them). The key is control. Giving people control over how and when they consume your content means they'll watch more, not less.

ChrisandersonChris Anderson, Author, Editor of Wired Magazine

We've had a Media Center PC since they first came out, and now have Xbox 360s (as Media Center extenders) on every screen in the house. The result is that my kids have grown up never knowing live TV. The deal we have with them is this: they crave control over the screen in all ways, including having the remote. So in exchange for them been allowed to pause or rewind funny bits, they're required to skip commercials, which they now do automatically. The result: they don't bug us about junk advertised on TV, all shows are 20% shorter, and when we go to hotels they're confused by why their shows aren't just there waiting for them.

In short, they are totally typical DVR kids. But given a choice between any TV and YouTube, their true colors shine through. They'd rather watch web video than anything broadcast. There is nothing Hollywood makes that can hold a candle to Fail Blog for them. Was it the control that the DVR gave them that made them so drawn the ultimate control of the Web? I'm not sure, but what seems clear is that they're not going back.

AnnaleenewitzAnnalee Newitz, Author, Journalist, Editor of scifi blog io9

DVRs are the perfect tools for the television obsessive, which is what scifi fans tend to be. I can't tell you how many times I paused for intense debate with friends (often with rewinding and rewatching) in the middle of watching Battlestar Galactica or Dollhouse. Honestly, how is anybody supposed to watch Lost without a DVR? One unexpected result of the rise of the DVR, however, is the destruction of one basic way fans relate to each other, which is by sharing videos. In the days of videocassettes, we swapped Star Trek:TNG and X-Files episodes, but most DVRs make it difficult to pass along copies of what you've saved.

JeffjarvisJeff Jarvis, Author, Journalism professor, creator & founding editor of Entertainment Weekly

The DVR killed the networks, yet may save the networks. Even more than the VCR, it freed us from the tyranny of of programmers' schedules and then -- to their surprise -- it also enabled us to watch more shows. The DVR showed 'em who's boss.

I think Hulu, iTunes, et al will have a greater impact on TV viewing, making it entirely personal. If I tried to start Entertainment Weekly today, I wouldn't, for a one-size-fits-all magazine would serve our entertainment needs just as poorly as one-size-fits-all networks have. EW's job will be done by peers' links and taste algorithms.

I can't leave this event without also noting the importance of PVRblog itself: Your what-the-heck experiment in niche content -- and advertising -- opened a path straight to current development of hyperlocal and hyperinterest blogs and entrepreneurship for that, I salute you.

CaterinafakeCaterina Fake, Co-Founder of Flickr & Hunch

A guy said to me once, "Wow! As a woman, you can get laid whenever you want!" and I said "Yeah and I can eat dirt whenever I want too!" For years there was a blinkx advertisement on 101 between Silicon Valley and San Francisco with a tagline that said something like "Find something to watch", which I thought was one of the stupidest taglines I'd ever heard. It's not hard to find someone to sleep with, it's hard to find someone you'd WANT to sleep with. It's not hard to find something to watch, it's hard to find something GOOD to watch. The tagline should have been, IMO, "There's Something Good On!"

That's what DVRs did. Find you the one thing, or the five things, that were good, so you didn't have to spend the time looking or surfing, hoping against hope you'd find the one good thing that was on. And you didn't have to be there, on time, to view it! Fantastic. Lifechanging. During the brief TV-watching era of my life between 2005-2007 my television life was completely changed forever.

Thanks to everyone for contributing here and to you the readers for following the site! I can't wait to see what the next decade has in store for entertainment technology and stay tuned for continued coverage of the PVR/DVR landscape here at PVRblog starting in January.

December 29, 2009 in Interviews, Op-Ed | Permalink | Comments (18)

TiVo's rebound

Picture_3 Five years ago, I wrote a post here called TiVo's Apple Problem. I looked at the current state of TiVo and wondered if they would be much like Apple was at the time (Apple has since gained much more mainstream appeal and higher sales), which was to say it would be a high-end product used by a small number of people and that things like cable company DVRs offered for free would dominate the space.

Off and on for the past six years I've been an armchair quarterback for TiVo telling them they should do anything and everything to become profitable, among other things: they should offer pay-per-view downloads (I asked for this in 2002), they should broker deals with cable companies, that they should release software for PCs, that they should move to international markets, and that while I'm not a fan of software patents in general I feel the TiVo patents are original and worth fighting.

What I realized this week is that TiVo has spent the past couple years starting battles on all these fronts, and it looks like (at least to this outside observer) like TiVo is winning on all fronts. Even as their CEO admits more people are using DVRs and skipping lots of ads, I'd say TiVo is doing well.

They released Amazon Unbox last year and are working on plans for HD downloads. They recently released branded PC software that lets you run a TiVo-like app on your media PC. They won the Dish Network patent battle and received not only $104 million in payout, but there are rumors that Dish Network will license parts of the TiVo experience they copied. DirecTV and TiVo have announced plans to work together again on a new HD DirecTiVo combo unit. TiVo got introduced into Canada last year and Australia this past summer. In the past year TiVo-branded units began rolling out to Comcast customers.

When you add it all up, TiVo is doing pretty well on all fronts -- 27% of homes in the US have a DVR now, and that number keeps increasing every time they run the survey (it was 22% last year). With TiVo available for all cable systems (including HD), available soon on DirecTV, and for some Comcast customers, and also available on your PC, there is a good chance TiVo the company could stand to increase their revenue as more and more people adopt DVRs into their homes and busy schedules.

I've given TiVo plenty of knocks over the past few years as it seemed the software wasn't improving, the service was too expensive, and it didn't seem like TiVo was going after every market it could. But I have to say in 2008, they've really turned it around and seem to be gaining on all possible revenue fronts. I've had a TiVo for eight years now and it has changed my life in that time, giving me back hours every week I would have spent on the couch channel surfing or staying at home in time to watch something. The financial health of TiVo is important to the continued development of the product as well as my ability to enjoy it, so I'm very interested in how the company is growing. I have to say it looks like they are doing well and have laid the groundwork for a prosperous future.

October 21, 2008 in Op-Ed, TiVo | Permalink | Comments (8)

Digital TV Crash Course: 10 years later

CringleyIf you've ever looked at the (American) local public television schedule, you've probably seen something listed late at night called "Digital TV: A Cringley Crash Course". My local PBS station plays it pretty much everyday between the hours of 2am and 5am, so the other day I decided to record it and watch it during a more reasonable hour.

Filmed in 1998, it's a half-hour introduction to HDTV and though many aspects of it are deliciously quaint (like the price and size of HDTVs mentioned), I was pleasantly surprised at how much this future-forward introductory show got right. Here are the highlights and lowlights of the show, with ten years of hindsight:

Predictions it got right

  • A nice history of aspect ratios is explained and TVs of the future would all be 16:9.
  • I was surprised that this show actually describes resolution up to 1080p as the high end. Given the limitations of 1998 technology, I figured they would discuss 480p and maybe 720p at most.
  • High resolution video will be delivered on fiber optic lines (as a new FiOS TV customer, I would say this is spot-on).
  • The show predicted most people would have HDTV sometime in the 2000s and talked about the 2006 digital TV switch (which was pushed to February 2009) which looks like it will finally happen.

Predictions it got wrong

  • All during the 1990s, everyone seemed to predict interactive TV was just around the corner. This section of the Cringley Crash Course site explains what was predicted on this show: shows would include all sorts of helpful metadata about what you were viewing. They even showed a demo during a cooking segment (with Julia Child!) where the full recipe was shown in an optional window, and any ingredient could be drilled down for more info. This has never happened and I don't know if it ever will (I'd rather use my laptop to look at google/wikipedia instead of my TV).

Overall, the show still holds up pretty well, giving an introduction to what HDTV means and for the most part accurately predicts what the TV world will be like in the 2000s.

March 4, 2008 in Op-Ed | Permalink | Comments (2)

Lessons from the TiVo launch: learning from mistakes

Series3hd_front_1 My TiVo is finally on a truck headed my way, but the buying process was filled with a lot of conflicting information and mismanaged expectations. Instead of making this a big anti-TiVo rant fest, I want to highlight lessons that any company could learn from. Some of these might sound nit-picky, but it's important to always give the customer a clear and consistent message and it would certainly cut down on support costs if buyers weren't in the dark. Support costs money and a lot of it could be avoided by making small changes in email and web server programming.

  1. Mistake: Tivo.com stated the Series 3 would ship in 1-2 days on day of launch.

    Lesson: Your store has to be inventory-sensitive. Not a lot of e-commerce sites excel at this, but it's worth tying your store backend to your inventory, or at the least, doing a little bit of math on the server side. I bet TiVo had 5,000 units ready to ship within two days, but got 5-10x that number of orders and swamped the system. A savvy developer could write some logic that displayed 1-2 days for the first 5k orders, then shift that to 3-4 days for the next 10k orders. After that, put 5-7 days for the rest on the first day.

    Apple does a great job with this (after a history of bad product launches). If you check out a product on the Apple Store on the day of launch, the shipment time will change as the day goes on, depending on order volume. The key is keeping your customer expectations in line with reality. For the past two years, Apple has been great for me, always delivering a day or two before they say, which keeps me happy.

    It sucked to spend $1100 and hear nothing about shipping for over 48 hours, but I ordered late morning Pacific time, or about 6 hours after the first orders trickled in. I wouldn't have minded if it said it'd take a week by that time.
  2. Mistake: TiVo sent a "whoops" email 2 days later, promising next-day shipment with email that never happened

    Lesson: Admitting a mistake early is great, but not following up on the promise killed any help it offered. When you sell way more than you expected, it's great to let people know there will be a slight delay and that they'll get free shipping as a result (everyone loves a bonus for a waiting customer!). The problem here is when you make a promise that everything will ship by the next day and the customer should see an email about this, it has to be absolutely true. You've already delayed the customer once -- when you give them more information, make sure it is 100% reliable because you don't want to delay them again.

    At this point, I setup a CableCard install, knowing I'd get the box on Saturday or Monday. I had to delay it on Monday for an additional week (next available slot), since I didn't know when it would ship.
  3. Mistake: Order Confirmation emails going out with old addresses

    Lesson: Always reference the original order info, not what you have on file for the customer. I never got the promised shipment email on Friday, but on Sunday afternoon I got an order confirmation email that listed the billing and shipping info for a place I lived in three years ago, back when I used to be a TiVo customer. I moved twice since then, had DirecTV then Comcast, but I used the same email when ordering the TiVo that I used to have a TiVo account with. I didn't want my $1100 package going to an old apartment so I called customer service on a Sunday night (couldn't be cheap for TiVo to maintain staff at that hour) only to be told it was going to the address I put down on my order, where I currently live.

    This happened to others as well, and the conflicting information just created more customer support issues.

    Another nit-pick, but the confirmation email said my order was placed on 9/14, not 9/12 when I actually ordered it on the website (I suspect the date is when TiVo put it in the confirmed system -- don't expose that to the customer).
  4. Mistake: Shipment email has conflicting info

    Lesson: Always give the customer consistent information. I got my final shipment email this morning saying I ordered UPS Ground shipping (instead of next day air) and it shows my total order doesn't include the 3-year pre-paid service. I understand TiVo doesn't actually ship 3-year service in a box, but it says "ITEMS ORDERED" and it is left off. Call it "ITEMS SHIPPING" instead because that reflects what you're really describing. Also, if every shipment needs to be UPS Ground in the system to process it as free, tack on a note saying that Next Day orders will arrive quicker.

I'm happy that TiVo's Series 3 sales exceeded expectations and this happens with any highly-anticipated launch (see also: xbox360, Playstation 2, iPods), but I think there are a few small changes that could have gone a long way towards keeping everyone happy and up to date. If the website said "shipping in 5-7 days" and the confirmation emails had information that reflected my order, I'd be a happy camper waiting for my TiVo to arrive sometime today, instead of reading posts on other blogs saying TiVo lied, don't buy from them, and I would have had an easier time lining up a cablecard install appointment.

September 19, 2006 in Op-Ed | Permalink | Comments (6)

Looks like the Series3 TiVo will be $799

Engadget has the scoop on the price of the upcoming Series 3 TiVo. Next month's Popular Mechanics has a guide page listing it as $800.

I'm really surprised TiVo isn't doing a better job dropping details on their upcoming release. They announced a mailing list a few weeks ago but haven't sent messages to it. They've been silent since the rumored launch date and price had spread. And now we see validation in a major national magazine.

In the end, we highly anxious, anticipating customers that want to buy one ASAP are finding out what we wanted to know with or without TiVo, only it's through all these leaks. I'd love to see TiVo take control of their PR and just come out and tell everyone what it'll cost and when we can get them in a store.

Not every company can be top secret and surprise the world like Apple does consistently. TiVo, instead take your cues from Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft -- be open and upfront with your customers and give them price and release dates well in advance (especially for major $800 purchases that might take people a couple months to save up for). Sure, once in a while deadlines slip, but it sure beats two years of speculation and a couple months worth of leaks that reveal everything everyone wanted to know anyway.

September 5, 2006 in Op-Ed | Permalink | Comments (12)

Quit saying "tivo" when it isn't a TiVo

I know I'm being a bit of a stickler here, but last week on Pimp My Ride, they opened the show by saying they'd stick hi-def TiVo into a guy's van. I watched closely knowing that's no easy task and unsurprisingly, even though you hear the word "TiVo" in the episode about half a dozen times, it most definitely wasn't TiVo.

Here's a clip of the episode, showing the installation segment that includes this "tivo" (embedded flash video):

Quicktime_playerscreensnapz001If you look closely, you can see DirecTV (screenshot right) in the menus as they install this mobile satellite system (another quibble: it doesn't do HD). The box he keeps referring to as a TiVo is actually LG's LRM-519 (screenshot lower right) which looks like a standard def DVR with a DVD burner in it, running Microsoft software (talking to a standard DirecTV receiver since it can't decode DirecTV signals on its own). There is no actual TiVo software or hardware of any kind involved in this setup.

Quicktime_playerscreensnapz002My point in explaining all this is that this Pimp My Ride segment shows the popularization of "TiVo" to the point at which any DVR is called a "TiVo" by salesmen, customer service reps, and now TV personalities. I know companies don't like it when they become so popular and ubiquitous that their name becomes generic (see: xerox, kleenex) but I'm especially worried about TiVo becoming generic because the experience of using a TiVo versus anything else is much different.

I get tons of email from dissatisfied cable and satellite customers that were offered a "TiVo" and ended up with a buggy, hard to use standard company-provided DVR. I've even heard a story of a family friend signing up to DirecTV, insisting on a combo TiVo/Satellite box (they'd used one before and liked it) and being assured they would receive a TiVo unit. When an installer showed up with the R15 device and argued that it was "the same as TiVo" the customer halted the install, complained to DirecTV, and is considering further action against DirecTV.

I know on the one hand it's a testament to how great a product/service is when people use it as a generic term but in the case of TiVo it seems to be leading to a lot of customer confusion. I could see the day when TiVo goes after other companies that promise you a tivo over the phone or in a store and then deliver a generic DVR.

July 12, 2006 in Op-Ed | Permalink | Comments (37)