[FoRK] NYTimes.com Article: How Do I Love Thee, TiVo?
khare at alumni.caltech.edu
khare at alumni.caltech.edu
Fri Mar 19 13:35:43 PST 2004
The article below from NYTimes.com
has been sent to you by khare at alumni.caltech.edu.
Eagerly awaiting my HDTV-capable TiVo! Should arrive just before tax day... :-)
khare at alumni.caltech.edu
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How Do I Love Thee, TiVo?
March 18, 2004
By ERIC A. TAUB
JEFF Davies was so fond of his digital video recorder that
he bought a second one. Then he bought another. And
another. And another. And another.
Today, Mr. Davies, a software engineer in Mountain View,
Calif., owns six TiVo and ReplayTV digital video recorders,
and actively uses five of them to record programs from his
satellite dish for later viewing.
"With my TiVo and Replay units, I can record seven programs
at once from DirecTV," Mr. Davies said, although so far he
has only recorded four simultaneously. "Having an infant
who requires feeding, we can now watch our shows at any
time, and without commercials."
While the size of his collection may be extreme, his
devotion to the technology is not. Since the introduction
of TiVo in 1999, digital video recorders have attracted a
growing base of fans who say the devices have altered more
than their viewing habits. TiVo, they say, has changed
"We are part of the TiVolution,'' said Kevin Everett, an
ophthalmologist and TiVo user in Birmingham, Mich., in an
e-mail message. "If there is one electronic box I would not
give up, it's my TiVo."
While the recorders are also available from ReplayTV, Dish
Network and some cable providers, it is the TiVo name that
has become synonymous with the technology. TiVo has been
paid perhaps the ultimate consumer compliment: it has
become a verb. As in, "Did you TiVo the Oscar show? I
missed it," or "I've TiVoed every episode of 'The Avengers'
Owners of digital video recorders are still a relatively
small niche. Adi Kishore of the Yankee Group, a research
firm, estimates that there are fewer than 3.5 million of
the devices in the United States, scattered among about 108
million households with televisions. (That figure does not
include a relatively small number of consumers who with
special hardware and software have turned their PC's into
But users are a passionate minority, eager to proselytize
about the technology to the uninitiated.
One booster is Jim Cambron, a single parent of a
high-school teenager. Mr. Cambron had heard of TiVo and
liked the idea of a machine that would easily allow him to
watch shows at his convenience, so he picked up a unit last
December. Not only did it make his TV viewing easier, but
it also unexpectedly changed his son's fortunes.
"Before we got the TiVo, my son was getting C's and D's in
school because he was staying up late to watch his shows
and going to school half-awake," said Mr. Cambron, a
television engineer in Kansas City, Mo. Now that the
Cambrons can time-shift programs, his son is getting enough
sleep and his grades have risen to A's and B's.
"Now we watch TV together as a family after dinner," he
said. "And my son even has enough time to get a job. So
it's improved his sense of the value of time. And it's
improved my relationship with him."
A digital video recorder records programs on a hard disk
drive rather than on tape, so the user has rapid access to
any part of a program. Live TV can be paused, and segments
can be fast-forwarded or skipped in 30-second increments to
avoid commercials. Shows can be found and recorded based on
the title, or on the name of an actor or director. And TiVo
models will automatically record programs that its software
judges to fit the viewing habits of the owner.
Still, as with cellphones and personal computers, the list
of features does not fully suggest the value and potential
impact of a digital video recorder. Recording a season of
shows with a one-button click, or creating wish lists of
shows or movies to be captured that feature favorite actors
or directors "are not one-liners that can be easily
explained," said Michael Ramsay, co-founder and chief
executive officer of TiVo, which is based in San Jose,
Calif. "You describe TiVo and people say it's like a VCR.
But no one records on a VCR."
Users agree that to get it, you need to actually get one.
Or six, in the case of Mr. Davies. He has a TiVo and a
ReplayTV hooked up to satellite receivers with each of his
two TV's, and a fifth recorder hooked up to a third,
TV-less satellite receiver in his garage. Since each TiVo
unit can record two satellite channels at once, Mr. Davies
can record seven of his and his wife's favorite shows if
they are on at the same time. Given the increasing number
of TV channels available, that possibility seems more and
Mr. Ramsay did not expect to create a growing cadre of
TiVoholics; he and others assumed in the company's early
days that their device would be an interim product, to be
replaced quickly by more advanced technology.
"We thought we would sell a few thousand TiVo units and
then move on to home media servers," Mr. Ramsay said. "But
as the business grew, and when the networks and advertisers
said our technology was disruptive, we knew we were on to
something. We realized we could have a true lifestyle
Michael Adberg and Jeff Shapiro know how fervently some
TiVo owners are attached to their machines. As owners of
WeaKnees.com, a TiVo retailer that also retrofits units
with larger-capacity hard drives to store more programs,
both have encountered the frustration that many owners feel
when they must part with their units for just a few days.
"Customers will spend $120 to get us their machines using
the earliest overnight delivery service," Mr. Shapiro said.
"They must be constantly accessing the U.P.S. Web site,
because 10 minutes after we sign for the package, a
customer will ask when we will be shipping the box back.
And if we don't respond promptly, we are pummeled -
pummeled - with phone calls."
That would come as no surprise to Matt Fisher, who
describes himself as "a TiVo junkie." Mr. Fisher said he
had persuaded "around 10" people to buy a machine. "It's
more than just a paradigm shift. I cannot imagine TV
As a TV development executive in Los Angeles, Mr. Fisher
has to watch television for his job. Even when watching
live TV, he never starts a program until at least 10
minutes after the show actually begins. That way, he can
stay just far enough behind to skip all the commercials.
"We waited one hour before starting the Academy Awards. We
watched two episodes of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and then
skipped all of the commercials during the Oscars."
For some TiVo users, household expenses have actually
decreased since they forked over the cash to buy the box
and pay for the monthly subscription. Ann Silberman of
Sacramento, Calif., buys fewer toys for her 7-year-old son,
Matt Kempster, than she did for his 17-year-old brother at
that age because Matt never sees TV commercials.
"He doesn't know about the popular toys or junk food,
because he doesn't watch live TV," Ms. Silberman said. "We
record the wholesome shows that we want him to see, and
that is what is available for him. Now that he isn't
sitting in front of the TV all the time, he's watching
During the summer months, the family is able to spend more
time outdoors when it is still daylight because they no
longer feel obligated to watch their favorite programs at
the appointed time. "Now I can enjoy a regular life," Ms.
While skeptics might ask why viewers do not just pull the
plug and enjoy life more, fans say that misses the point.
"People who do not understand how important TV is, start
talking in the middle of a show," said Doug Smith, a human
resource specialist in Cleveland, Tenn. That is no longer a
problem for Mr. Smith, who won a TiVo in an essay contest.
"I wrote that I needed a TiVo to be a good husband," he
Now, with a digital video recorder, he said, "I no longer
get complaints from my wife. When she asks me to do
something around the house, I just pause the program and do
Mr. Smith has since replaced his older TiVo model with
three ReplayTV units. The new units allow him to stream
programs from one to the other. After recording a program
in his darkened home theater room, he transfers it to his
brighter living room area, where he can watch while doing
other things. Mr. Smith has been so taken with the
technology that he has persuaded five of his friends to buy
a recorder, he said.
The devices not only allow users to watch shows at any
time, but they also introduce them to obscure programs that
they might not otherwise find. Before Dr. Everett, the
Michigan ophthalmologist, and his wife take a trip, he
enters the destination on their TiVo "wish list," to
automatically record travelogues about the area.
Edris Amiryar's parents have been active in reconstruction
efforts in Afghanistan. To keep track of their work, Mr.
Amiryar, a systems engineer in Manassas, Va., has created a
wish list with his parents' names to record news items
featuring them. "I've got lots of wish lists," he said.
An insomniac, Mr. Amiryar said he now has "plenty of TV
programs to watch." Before TiVo, he said, he watched too
many infomercials. "I learned too much about Ron Popeil,"
he said, referring to the founder of Ronco, the infomercial
Despite all the praise heaped upon the life-changing
aspects of this technology, some users have found some
Lora Friedenthal, a temporary office worker in Ringoes,
N.J., used to keep the TV on whenever she was home, but now
she only watches programs recorded on her TiVo. "I'm so
much less aware of current events," said Ms. Friedenthal,
who does not read newspapers. "When I had the TV on all the
time, I got to see the news."
And like books piled high on a nightstand, the abundance of
selected programs stored on a recorder's hard drive can
start to seem more like a challenge than a pleasure to be
Faced with a backlog of 100 hours of stored programming,
Mr. Fisher, the TV development executive, and his wife
skipped the movie theater last Christmas Day and waded
through the recorded shows instead. "We didn't leave the
room all day," Mr. Fisher said. "And we felt kind of sleazy
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