Palm, BlackBerry - Is TiVo Next to Go?

By Doug Mohney October 15, 2013

Palm, BlackBerry and TiVo were all innovative ideas for their times, but Palm is now gone and BlackBerry continues to thrash around like a wounded animal as it searches for a buyer, any buyer. As a longtime TiVo owner/subscriber, I'm looking to bail out because I'm fed up with the company's customer service policy. But it's more than bad customer service – TiVo is pushing a hardware-based solution in a software and cloud-driven world. Sounding like Palm or BlackBerry yet?

Let me get the customer service issue out of the way first. If you buy a new TiVo and want to turn off service on the previously faithfully hardware box, you can't do it on the company's website.   TiVo mandates you call them on the telephone to cancel service. This is required so a live human being can try to sell you a "lifetime" subscription on your old TiVo box while reminding you that your new box will cost more on a subscription per month. I've gone through this process multiple times over the years and it never becomes un-annoying.

Image via Shutterstock

Beyond customer service, I've wrestling with and given up on CableCard issues as I try to make TiVo understand HDTV signals. Between two TiVo boxes, I've swapped about four to six CableCards before I got "enough" (but not all) HDTV channels. At some point, I'm going to unplug everything and go with my cable provider's DVR service.

TiVo peaked at around 4.4 million retail users in January 2006. At the end of July 2013, it had under a million, with a churn rate of 1.5 percent. Most of its income these days comes out of cable licensing deals and patent litigation settlements, but cable pays under a buck per subscriber as compared to multiple dollars from directly owning "retail" customers, and there's nobody left to sue.

TiVo is promoting its Roamio line of hardware as the solution to all your video needs, but there's a lot of overlap between what it offers and what the cable companies are already providing as a part of their package, including tablet/mobile viewing and more-than-two-channels-at-a-time recording.  

More importantly, cable is more than willing to provide all the features customers want on a single bill. TiVo requires separate hardware and a separated billing relationship. Roll in talk of cable and Netflix being able to work together, and TiVo's once-revolutionary user interface is just a pretty memory as cable continues to evolve. In fact, larger cable providers such as Comcast and Cox are going one better, offering individual viewing profiles rather than the "One mash" solution of TiVo viewing.

Palm and BlackBerry once dominated the spaces they established, but other solutions evolved while they coasted. TiVo, like BlackBerry, seems to think new hardware will help it regain market share. I am doubtful the strategy will work, given the pain in the neck existing customers get each time they upgrade boxes.

Contributing Editor

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