ANOTHER Open letter to TiVo

Posted on September 6th, 2012 in Commentary by EngineerBoy

Stop nickel and diming us, start WOW!-ing us

Dear TiVo,

Two years ago I posted an open letter to you and, sadly, I find myself once again compelled to send along some constructive criticism.  Just like last time, there was a specific trigger, and this time the trigger was your announcement of the TiVo Stream add-on.  The Stream is a $130 device that enables TiVo owners to download and/or stream some of their TiVo content to Apple iDevices.

That sounds okay on the face of it, but there are limitations.  First of all, it currently only supports Apple devices, so if you have an Android or Windows or other mobile device, you are currently SOL.  Support may come, but it may not, and given your history of not finishing what you start (see: TiVo HD menus still not finished after 2+ YEARS) I wouldn’t take that bet.  Note that I don’t own or use any iDevices.

Second, the streaming only works if I am using my iDevice on the same local network as my TiVo.  So, if I am traveling and want to watch something from my TiVo, sorry, I can’t do that with the Stream device.  I could theoretically have transferred a previously recorded program to my iDevice before I left the house (assuming I had enough room to hold the recordings) and take it with me, but if I didn’t have that foresight (or the show wasn’t recorded yet) I’ll just have to do without.  Meanwhile, the Slingbox allows me to stream all my TiVo content anywhere, anytime for roughly the same price, without the limitations.

Third, and this is the kicker, is that this is functionality that you should simply have enabled on our existing TiVo boxes, instead of charging us for another device, not to mention forcing us to manage another appliance with all of the power and wiring hassles it causes.

And there’s the rub, and my biggest complaint to you, which is that you continue to try to nickel and dime your already happy and loyal customers, to the point where we are no longer fans of yours.  For example, I currently have four active TiVo devices, and I have to pay a monthly fee for each one.  For that fee I get a) programming information and b) TiVo software updates.  That’s it.

Meanwhile, I pay a monthly fee to Netflix that is less than the monthly service fee on a single TiVo box, and for that fee Netflix provides me with unlimited streamed content.  AND I can watch that content on any of my devices, and I don’t have to pay a per-device fee.  I agree that you should be compensated for programming info and updates, but your current fee structure is simply off the reservation, and as the Netflix’s and Hulu Plus’s of the world come out with much more direct benefit for much less money, you are looking more and more overpriced in the marketplace.

So, TiVo charges a per-device monthly fee, not for content, but for data about programming and for software updates.  Not only that, but they double-dip their users by also loading their interface up with advertising.  Yes, that’s right, not only do I have to drop several hundred dollars on a TiVo device, then separately buy the wireless adapter, then either pay a monthly fee and/or a big lifetime programming fee, then pay my cable company (or Netflix or Hulu Plus) for programming, but after all of that paying and paying, I also get the wonderful experience of having stupid ads all over my TiVo interface.

That, my friends, is nickel and diming.

Also, you continue to have huge, gaping holes in your offering.  For example, I belong to Amazon Prime, and as such I get access to a whole library of streaming movies and television shows at no additional cost.  But can I watch them on my TiVo?  No.  I can watch Amazon digital movies and television that I have to pay for separately, but not the Prime streaming stuff.  Why?  Who knows, but given that the list of devices that supports Amazon Prime streaming is so large, there are no technical hurdles, so the only option left is that it’s not a priority for you.  Why would that be?  Simple, in my mind – because there are no direct dollars to be gained by doing it.

It seems to me that TiVo has dropped any and all development that is not related directly to specific new revenue.  What that means is that you are taking your existing customers for granted, which has been your historical method of operation, in my experience.  I bought my TiVo, and now I’m a captive audience, why should you spend money improving my experience in any material way?

That strategy may make sense to an accountant, but when you are dealing with the mass market, you have to have a happy customer base, or else you lose the whole shebang.  And that’s where I think you are headed, if you don’t change things.  What TiVo needs to do is to make changes that will WOW us existing customers, but without charging us more.  Turn us back into evangelists.  We want to be your marketing arm.  We want to nag our friends and families until they get the wonderful TiVo experience that we have.

How could you WOW! your existing customers?  Some modest suggestions:

  • Finish the HD menus and remove the lag and sluggishness, I know that would cause me to say WOW!
  • Upgrade the music player, so that I get a rich (non-buggy) experience playing my music through my TiVo and television
  • Enable basic web surfing – you already have web connectivity, audio-video, and input, so let me get to more things on the web like you do with YouTube
  • Instead of charging me $15/device/month, charge me one fee of $10/month and allow all my devices to update via that subscription
  • Enable streaming of Amazon Prime videos
  • Enable all my TiVos to act as one, meaning let me have complete control of all my TiVos from any of my TiVos, examples include:
    • Let me schedule recordings on any TiVo from any TiVo, so if I go to schedule a recording in the living room, but there are conflicts, let me schedule it in the bedroom or office.
    • Have my Season Passes and Wishlists arbitrate across all my TiVo devices to avoid conflicts and record my desired shows.
    • Let me move shows arbitrarily between any TiVos from the TiVo I’m looking at.  For example, if I’m sitting in front of TiVo #1, you should let me move a show from TiVo #2 to TiVo #3.
  • Let me stream protected content between devices.  Yes, you have content providers to contend with, but given that you already have my TiVos share a Media Access Key (MAK) you should be able to get them to allow content to be shared across devices with the same MAK.  This would include not only protected HD recordings from cable, but things like downloaded Amazon movies
  • Make a slide keyboard remote that actually works.  The current one is a fantastic idea but it works horribly.
  • Give me a full featured app for my non-Apple devices.  I guarantee you that more TiVo users have Windows laptops than have iDevices, so how about a nice Windows app to control my TiVos?  I’m not talking your (slow, ponderous) web site, I mean an app running on Windows that controls the TiVo via TCP/IP networking
  • Etc.

Again, we want to be your marketing arm, but we can’t, because we ourselves are no longer true believers.  You neglect us while you pursue short-term revenue.  You give us features (at an added cost) that analysts say we want, without asking us.  Er, that’s not true – you do ask us, then ignore us, which is doubly insulting.

So, TiVo, please take this as constructive criticism.  If you tend to your existing flock, we will grow organically.  We will breed across our family and friends, and we’ll be able to give our complete endorsement of your products and services without caveats.

Please, help us help you.

Thanks for listening.


Scott Turner
TiVo Customer since 2002
Direct purchaser of 8 TiVo DVRs
Direct influencer in the purchase of dozens of TiVos by friends and family
Purchaser of dozens of remotes and wireless add-ons
Currently considering alternative DVR/streaming solutions

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