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.
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.
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.
Heather 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!
Nick 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.
Gina 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.
Chris 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.
Annalee 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.
Jeff 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.
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.