To Tivo or Not To TiVo


For me, the moment when the digital video recorder finally zapped beyond the early-adapter stage to the mainstream occurred last week. I was taking my kids to school on Monday when I heard about my 10-year-old, Maria, getting into an impassioned discussion with a group of her classmates. The subject: TiVo—who had it and who didn't.

I was amazed when it became apparent that easily more than half of her pals came from families with TiVo (or DVRs, I'm guessing, since—much to the TiVo company's consternation—the name has joined Kleenex and Rollerblade as generic shorthand).

Wait a minute, I said to myself, what about all those industry conferences and events where I hear some network or advertising executive downplay the impact that DVRs are going to have on the business? These media mavens always cite the low penetration of the technology— about 8 percent of homes—and they insist that it gets way more buzz than it merits simply because gear-heads and folks in the entertainment business love their DVRs.

Interestingly, aside from Maria, none of her friends have parents in the media or entertainment business. And one of the things they told their non-TiVo friends was how great it is to fast-forward through the commercials.

I'll understand if you think this is presumptuous, but I'm willing to make a completely unscientific prediction based solely on this grade-school focus group: We're only a few years away from DVRs being in half of U.S. homes.

I know, this is a more aggressive position than what you'll hear from market studies such as the one last July by Banc of America Securities, which pegged the number a tad north of 30% by 2009. Another study released last week, from the Leichtman Research Group, pegged DVR penetration at 36% by 2010.

Still, many of the DVR studies I see encourage a certain amount of bullishness, because they inevitably report an extremely high satisfaction level for those who have DVRs. The Leichtman study stated that 83% of those surveyed would “strongly” recommend DVRs to a friend.

I have a more personal kind of data to support my bullish view. But first, a confession: My daughter was among the have-nots in the TiVo discussion. I know, it might sound shameful for the editor in chief of B&C to not own a DVR. But to tell the truth, even though I've been enamored of the concept ever since I first heard it bandied about in 1988, when I visited the Media lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (where the mantra was “prime time will be on my time”), I don't really need one. Prime time is already on my time, and has been for years, because networks and studios are so good about supplying me in advance with DVDs and tapes of new shows, well before they're on TV—and without commercials. And I can record stuff in my office, too. But the result is that I have denied my family the chance to join the TiVo brigade.

And, hey, no parent likes to hear his kid sounding like the deprived one in a discussion with her peers. Oh, sure, I like the idea that, when my children want to watch Full House or So You Think You Can Dance (instead of tending to less important aspects of life like homework and getting ready for bed), they can use a DVR to record the shows and skip the ads. I admit, though, that the big motivator here is my keeping-up-with-the-Joneses reflex.

And I've got news for all the experts who discount the future of DVRs: Millions of Joneses are going to have these things—and soon.

Kids, we'll get ours as soon as Daddy upgrades the digital box for one with a built-in DVR. But that would mean calling the cable company. Maria, you may have to wait.

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