A couple weeks ago, I did an hour long interview with the writer of "The Definitive Oral History of TiVo" and he used a few quotes of mine in the storytelling. It's a very good and long read, and one of the things that was new to me was hearing they were deliberate in how they gave away so many early TiVos to celebrities and even online nerds like me who blogged a lot. I kinda wish they had a few more voices like Margret Smith to get more info on how they drilled down on the design that really won over early users like me.
The one thing the writer missed was my comments on why TiVo didn't end up in every household and I think it was (and continues to be) their core marketing problem. I remember having this conversation many times over from 2000-2007 with friends. They'd say to me, how great is a TiVo? And I'd say that it was definitely life changing, that it let you become untethered to TV schedules and you could watch sports replays all you wanted, and you'd never miss your favorite shows. Simply put, it made TV good again.
And then they'd ask, how do I get started? And I'd have to answer:
- Go buy a ~$300 box at Best Buy
- Bring it home and hook it up to your TV, your A/V unit, and the phone line you must have near your TV (get a new phone jack installed if need be)
- Sign on to a monthly plan or pony up loads of money for a lifetime subscription even though you don't know how well you'll even like it yet
- Use the simple, well-designed, and amazing remote to enter dozens of shows you love, one letter at a time using the remote.
- Wait a week or two for the TiVo to start grabbing your shows
- A few weeks later, you get to enjoy your TiVo!
In software company speak, their onboarding process was atrocious. In hindsight many years later, TiVo should have relentlessly worked on every one of these barriers to lessen the number of steps and cost to consumers so they could get to that final step of loving their TiVo and TV much easier.
The box was too expensive, and the monthly costs were hard to swallow on top of your cable bill. They didn't add ethernet and wifi until much later, and they didn't let you add shows to your TiVo via your keyboard and mouse on their website until maybe 2010 or so.
TiVo was and continues to be incredible, but I think they'd be in a much different place today if getting new customers up and running was much easier, much earlier on in their company history.