. . . Wednesday June 9, 2004

Are More Features the Answer for TiVo?

Let me preface by saying I’m extremely biased on this one. I think the trouble with TiVo (which, for the record, is my favorite consumer technology product of all time) has been two-fold. First, the technology itself could be a little easier to set up. No big deal for someone like me who dedicates much of his life to the television watching experience, but still a problem for people who can barely work the VCR. Second, and much more importantly, TiVo has done a poor job of marketing itself – focusing a features such as the ability to pause live television as opposed to selling the primary functionality of the box. It is the next generation VCR. It provides a much easier way to record and watch whatever shows you want whenever you want.

TiVo has become a verb and has forced the advertising industry to restrategize its future. But TiVo is still, by and large, a niche product. Ever hear a TiVo addict describe the functionality of the machine? TiVo should be selling faster than crack.

Now TiVo, in the wake of DirecTV’s decision to sell its equity stake in the company, has decided to announce the addition of even more features.

The first set of new features TiVo added awhile back allowed users to essentially stream music and picture files from their computer to their TiVo and hence through their television. In my opinion, these features are terrible. They take what could be a quality experience (watching slide shows on your computer or on your TV via a monitor cord or listening to music on your laptop or connecting that laptop to your stereo) and slow them down and lower the quality of the experience. Digitial pictures look like crap on most televisions. And if you have a high end plasma screen, then you are already being more efficient and connecting your laptop to it directly.

That’s not what TiVo is all about. It’s about taking an experience that was so irritating that most viewers gave up on recording shows altogether and made it so simple that watching TV would never be the same. Listen my TiVo friends, that is more than enough to sell us the product. That alone makes it a revolution.

So now TiVo has announced plans to enable users to download movies and music onto their TiVo hard drives. OK. Sounds cool. It’s probably a feature set they’d have to introduce to do deals with Netflix and others who will soon need to attack the movies-on-demand business.

But if TiVo focuses on tomorrow’s features without properly marketing the core feature set they have offered from day one, they may end up getting crushed like the petri dish they are in danger of becoming.

And that would crush me and the more than a million other early adopters who have spent years trying to convince our luddite friends to buy the box already.

Update: Kottke has some interesting advice for TiVo. He’s dead-on. Why? Because his suggestions are related to the improvement of TiVo’s core purpose. It’s about watching TV!

Concentration is important!