Commentary

TiVo Is The Enemy

Can you believe this?! It was such a thrill to observe the delicately budding relationship between online marketers and the video iPod--an overture by Washingtonpost.com here, a subtle advance by Burger King there. And then, in its haste to maintain some leverage in the DVR market, TiVo this week announced plans to synchronize its system with the iPod (and Sony's PlayStation Portable mobile device), abruptly spoiling what could have opened a whole new world for rich/streaming media.

Well, maybe not entirely. But TiVo's unilateral move does create all sorts of problems for, well, nearly everyone. The pay model of $1.99 for episode of shows like "Desperate Housewives," which Steve Jobs and Disney's ABC introduced upon the birth of the video iPod, is toast. (To clarify, Apple had no knowledge that TiVo was planning its sync-fest, which should be operative as soon as first quarter next year.)

And, because consumers will be able to fast forward through the commercials that will remain on iPoded TiVoed TV, the only place where they'll have to sit through commercials will be--irony of ironies--online! Could this mean the death of pre-roll? Plus, it's only a matter of time before other DVR providers like Comcast and Time Warner give in and go out of their way to sync with portable devices like the iPod.

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So, what's a publisher and its advertisers to do? Any efforts to get their content online and mobile-ready is likely to be circumvented shortly by the evil TiVo, right?

Maybe not. I mean, for almost a year TiVo has offered a service that allows consumers to transfer recorded programs to laptops and smartphones, and it has yet to bury the pre-roll. The service, coined TiVoToGo, operates on Microsoft's portable media center technology. Also, the complexity of getting TiVoed TV onto one's iPod, offers some hope that marketers--using either a pay or ad model--will have an opportunity to woo consumers if they can offer an appreciably less complicated screening process.

When it launches, TiVo users will have to record shows onto the machine's hard drive, and transfer the program over their home network to their home computer, where it's synced into an iPod compatible video format. Then (!), the video must be transferred to the iPod from the PC. The process takes hours.

TiVo's user base, furthermore, is not as impressive as one might assume. Because, 2.3 million subscribers who get their TiVo service via DirecTV Group will not have access to the iPod sync, that leaves just 1.3 million users who subscribe directly to TiVo.

TiVo's announcement a headache? Sure. An interference to the progress of pre-roll? Maybe. But, if we've learned anything over the fast few years, it's that this market can correct imbalances just as quickly as they occur. The only thing I know for sure at this Point: TiVo is the enemy.

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