First of all, I love TiVo. I still use TiVo a lot (although not nearly as much as MCE, simply because I’m at my computer all of the time), and I think that people suffering through the Moto Comcast PVR adventure are tragic figures. I bet big on TiVo for two years and invested myself on that platform to the point of pain. But TiVo is a wonderful device that took so long to gain traction that the market window is going to close before it ever really opened. TiVo will simply never be able to reach scale.
BTW, I’m not gleeful about this. I don’t like to see such a brilliant idea, executed relatively well, fail in the marketplace. As an entrepreneur it reminds me how easy it is to lose in a great segment with great technology and great marketing. This is not fun to think about.
What TiVo lacks right now is a way to grow the number of people (by an order of magnitude or greater) that access video through their interface. They can only monetize through advertising if they control the environment that the video is played within. An order of magnitude would still only net them 15-20 million users (DirecTV boxes aren’t really controlled by TiVo and don’t really count). This would only be the size of YouTube. But TiVo is never going to get there in a way that is relevant. They have been rapidly outflanked by the likes of Apple and Slingbox which will soon be replaced by a plethora of ‘soft’ open applications that run on browser-enabled devices.
To be a bit more detailed, the video access device of the future is one that connects to any screen (or is embedded in the device with the screen), has high speed Internet access and can render a powerful web browser (Flash9+ support). This can be done pretty inexpensively, and will likely wind up built into most modern TV sets and cell phones (or iPhones). These things are not going to come with TV-tuners installed, not at the glacial rate things like CableCard developed and the political wranglings of a few MSOs. I have argued the broadcast is not going to die anytime soon, and that is still the case, but the pace at which it is getting outflanked by IP delivery is astonishing. I mean, look at the CBS syndication strategy to see how quickly this is all happening.
I think the number of devices that ship with my described features above is about to explode. A sandbox in which developers can play has not served TiVo well. Adobe has created a platform separate and apart from the hardware that can do some pretty amazing things. The hardware to replace the TiVo ‘box’ will soon be bundled with tens of millions of devices each of which also carries the ability to display applications written in Flash.
TiVo is, to quote someone I heard at a Red Herring conference back in the halcyon days of USPower, ‘putting lipstick on the corpse.’ Regardless of what Mark Cuban says, even ‘live’ broadcasts will be delivered over the Web. It’s true that bandwidth is still relatively limited and expensive and that TelCos don’t like P2P networks, but it will eventually happen. The only thing that we are arguing is time frame. And at the pace things are moving right now, that time frame is not long. And if you plot TiVos growth trajectory (even with the Moto roll out imminent), they are going to be reaching scale right around the time the mass market is shifting to Web delivery. And in web delivered content, TiVo is a laggard and has not clear differentiator over any other service.
Babbling a bit, but the point is, TiVo will look more like the 8-track tape than the cassette tape; replaced by something better before the market really produced a positive return on investment. I’ll continue to use TiVo for years, but I will be a member of a rapidly diminishing percentage of the global internet population. Sad, but true.