Strong opinions, weakly held

The future of Tivo

The good news is that Tivo is releasing a new DVR. It looks awesome. I have been a Tivo customer for many years, in fact, Tivo is perhaps my favorite product of all time.

The bad news is that Tivo is a perpetual money loser, and lost 730,000 subscribers last year.

For many years I’ve had a DVR provided by Time-Warner hooked up to the second TV. It is the worst product I use on a regular basis. The interface is terrible, the remote is ungainly, and the performance of the device is pathetic. But what we’ve learned over time is that people are not willing to pay the premium for the Tivo experience — the cable company DVRs are good enough for most people. I doubt that many people even know that the Tivo is so much better.

One big problem Tivo faces is that it’s a lot easier for a cable company to ship a DVR that you just plug in and start using than it is for Tivo to do the same. In addition to the Tivo, we have two cable cards that enable it to tune in digital channels, and a tuning adapter that the Tivo needs to tune in SDV channels. Getting the CableCards to work was incredibly painful and required several visits from the cable guy and many phone calls with tech support, and the tuning adapter required for SDV crashes frequently and sometimes takes the Tivo down with it. The miserable piece of crap that is the cable company DVR just works.

I’ve always wished that a cable company would license Tivo’s software and use it in their own DVRs, but it has never happened. That’s a pity, because I continue to worry about Tivo’s viability as an independent concern.


  1. It doesn’t help you but since November Tivo has a deal with Virgin Media in the UK. It’s good for us though since at the moment you can’t really get Tivos at all over here.

  2. I bought my parents a Tivo several years ago. It’s absolutely great. I’ve used other DVRs but they never had the same level of experience.

    Still, you mentioned CableCards in the post, and that’s my biggest gripe. I’ve wanted to upgrade the Tivo to an HD version for the past two years, but CableCards did not get any market penetration in Canada. None of the cable providers use them. So, no HD TiVo for anyone in Canada, and sadly that means losing more subscribers in the future.

  3. I’ve been using my Tivo Series 3 HD for about 3 years, first with Comcast and then with Verizon FIOS. FIOS, by far, is a much better experience with Tivo. The FIOS install techs know what they’re doing and don’t stare at you blankly when you ask about cablecards.

    I have two gripes about Tivo, both fairly minor. The first is that the interface has become slower and slower over the years. I don’t fully understand why. I probably need a Tivo OS refresh or something. The second is the subscription cost. After paying a pretty large sum for the Tivo hardware, I then have to pay a monthly fee to receive the channel/guide information. By buying the 3-year plan this is about $8/month, but still….these two costs need to be consolidated down to one.

    The final gripe is the Tivo hard drive is pathetically small. When recording HD shows, it fills up very fast. Hard drives are so inexpensive (even three years ago when I did my purchase) there is no excuse for Tivo not putting the largest drive available in their units – especially because we’re paying such a premium for the Tivo hardware.

  4. Presumably you use your Tivo to skip commercials? How is that different from Adblocking online which isn’t kosher in you book?

  5. Advertisers pay the networks to air the commercials regardless of whether or not I skip them.

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