How I went from loving to loathing TiVo…

Posted on August 28th, 2010 in Commentary,Engineerboy,Product Reviews,Technology,Television by EngineerBoy

I still *want* to love you, but you're losing me

Dear TiVo,

I read two articles recently that spurred me to write you this letter.  The first article described how at the end of July 2009 you had 3.05 million subscribers, but at the end of July 2010 you were down to 2.38 million.  Five years ago this would have surprised me, but not any more.

The second article was from your site, describing the spiffy new QWERTY TiVo remote with a sliding face and a full keyboard.  I was overjoyed by the news, as I’ve been waiting for a remote like this since I bought and activated my first TiVo back in 2002.  I read the article in great anticipation, wondering how pricey the remote would be.  Hm, $90.  Not unreachable, but seemingly a little steep, which would make it in keeping with everything else you sell.

But then I got to the last paragraph, where the last sentence read:

“The new remote will work with TiVo Premiere, Premiere XL, TiVo Series3, TiVo HD, and TiVo HD XL boxes.”

No Series 1?  No Series 2 or Dual-Tuner?  Leaving us faithful early adopters behind again, are we?

Typical.  This is typical of everything I have come to expect from you over the years.  I still love TiVo-the-technical-solution, but with TiVo-the-company I have gone from love to like to not caring to being annoyed and, finally, to loathing, where I am today.

I now own and use 5 (count ’em) TiVos, but they are all Series 2.  My disillusionment began in earnest when you released the Series3 boxes, and included things like YouTube browsing that were not made available to Series2 owners.  Now, you had a story for why this was so, which was something about Flash, I think, but I didn’t (and still don’t) buy it.  If you had wanted to make it work, you could have.   But, you chose to have those features and functions be differentiators to try and get Series2 owners to upgrade.

So close, and yet so far away

And it’s continued to be that way over the years, up through the latest insult of not letting us have the new remote (pictured at left).  You continue to add new and improved features and functions, very few of which are made available to your existing base of owners, unless they have the latest and greatest.  Now, I understand this from a business perspective, as I work in technology, so I know that it’s hard to keep the installed base happy.  It’s very easy to add new features and functions to totally new and redesigned devices, and your bean-counters are happy to see the R&D and other expenses that go into anything that will grab new customers and dollars.

I can visualize the meetings where you discussed the strategy of what to do with the installed base.  Spending money on something that will make the installed base happier is not a strategy that reaps short-term benefits, so it’s difficult for people to get behind it and make those investments.  Conversely, it’s much easier to talk about investing in the new model with the new features that will open up new markets and bring in new customers and new revenues.  *Everybody* can get behind that, and nobody gets fired for trying to grow the business.

But people do get fired for spending money on things that are difficult to quantify, like the care and feeding of existing customers.  However, the sign of a truly successful company is that they do exactly that.  It’s like flossing your teeth.  If I don’t floss today, nothing bad really happens.  If I don’t floss this month, or even this year, there may be no noticeable negative impact from my perspective. 

But if I never floss?  Eventually I’ll start losing my teeth.  And teeth, like customers, are things that, once you’ve neglected them to the point that you lose them, you never get them back.  Well TiVo, you haven’t been flossing, and you have decayed my loyalty as a customer to the point where now I hope that some viable alternative presents itself, so that I can leave you behind.

The good news, for you, is that the technology of the TiVo is awesome.  Usability is great, and you have features and functions that far outstrip anything that the cable companies offer.  However, from my cable company I can get an HD DVR for $5/month with no other out-of-pocket expense.  With you I’d have to spend $300-$500 to get the new TiVo Premiere, and then cough up another $300 for lifetime service, or $11/month for the monthly services.  Your DVR is far better than the one my cable company offers, but the three year cost for a TiVo Premiere for me would be $800, while the three year cost for my cable company’s DVR would be $180.

Not only are you more than four times more expensive, but you only have a one-year warranty, so if my TiVo has a problem in year 2 or 3 it falls to me to fix it out of my own pocket.  My cable company will send me a replacement box at no cost if their DVR has problems.

So, with TiVo I get a slicker product but at over 4 times the cost, and I also have to assume the risk of repair costs after the first year.  You’re good, but you’re not that good.  So, for the first time in eight years I am open to an alternative.  I don’t think it’s out there, yet, but if I’m ready and willing to move away from TiVo that means there are others like me who are, too.

I do hope that you figure out how to survive, and how to offer your products at a far more reasonable cost.  I know that cable companies are licensing your software to put on their set-top boxes, and I can see this being a way for you to survive.  My hope is that you are able to maintain the full feature set when provided by a cable company, because I can see them wanting you to disable or degrade certain functions so that they maintain control of their user base.  Don’t do that, please?

And I think one thing that has become clear over time is that your subscription fees are poisoning your business model.  Either make me buy the device with a huge up-front cash outlay *or* charge me a monthly fee, but don’t do both.  For a $500 up-front purchase price you should be able to provide the programming information at no additional charge.  If you don’t want to do that, then let me get the box for $10-$15/month and no up-front fee, and back it with an ongoing warranty just like my cable company does.  I’d do that in a heartbeat – get a TiVo Premiere for nothing up front and $15/month?  Sweet.  How about doing that?

But, after 8 years I feel that I know you well enough to know that you won’t do either of those things, because it appears that your corporate culture is too hide-bound to consider those alternatives.  Somebody, somewhere has decided that a monthly subscription fee needs to apply, and the huge up-front purchase price needs to apply, and that’s that.  If you have to have a monthly fee, how about making it something reasonable, like $5/month/household, and it doesn’t matter how many TiVo’s I have?

I’m rooting for you, but only a little bit.  I used to care about you, but now I don’t, because you’ve spent 8 years not caring about me.  I wish you good luck, and I hope you figure out a way to survive.  But, if you don’t, I will no longer be among those who mourn your passing, because while you had great engineering, your business side sucks.  How about listening to your engineers, who I’m sure have been trying to tell your business folks all of this all along?

But, no, conventional wisdom says that engineers don’t know what they’re talking about when it comes to business.  Er, except for Google, that is.  And Microsoft.  Oh, and HP, too. 

But, what do they know?




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