commentary by Steve Effros TIVO P?R It’s been hard to miss all the press TiVo’s generated recently. Reminds me of a theory taught in some law schools: if you don’t have the facts on your side, yell louder! That seemed to be what folks at TiVo were doing at the start of the CES confab a few weeks ago. The New York Times ran a story that essentially said TIVO was having great difficulty because the cable industry somehow was preventing it from innovating and providing new services. Embarrassingly, the reporter didn’t do much, if any, fact checking. Indeed, as the CES started, TiVo announced it was rolling out new boxes with precisely the innovative capabilities (including two CableCards for dual-tuner recording) that TiVo head Mike Ramsay was reportedly bemoaning in the article he could not create because of the big, bad cable industry! What’s going on here? Well, as the last few weeks progressed with more stories about TiVo, its soured relationship with DirecTV and other troubles, it became clear the PVR pioneer had a lot more difficulty than just competing with cable. Ramsay is being "kicked upstairs" in favor of a new CEO, and a dispute among board members became fodder for more articles. By last week an article had appeared quoting a consumer who explained why he had just opted for a new Comcast PVR rather than a TiVo box. It was simple: Unlike TiVo, Comcast did not charge for the equipment, but included it in the price of the service, and even then, Comcast’s service price was lower than TiVo’s! A no-brainer. So what was all that PR company whoo-ha in The Times? (We should find out who they were – they did a great spin job!) Well, I suspect it was our "friends" at Consumer Electronics Association had something to do with it. You see, the article focused on the premise that TiVo was having trouble because cable operators were allegedly unfairly keeping very tight control over integrated set-top boxes, refusing to cooperate on allowing others to create set-top cable consumer electronic devices, and therefore this innovative company was being held down. This happens to be the spin the CEA is pushing at the FCC to try to force cable operators to abandon integrated set-top boxes in favor of everyone having to use CableCards. The only folks that helps is the manufacturers of CableCard devices, since it would increase the price of all boxes provided to consumers, even those owned by the cable company that are not intended for "portability" since they stay in the cable community. There is simply no reason why our customers should be forced to pay more for equipment that does not provide them with any additional benefit. The spin, of course, was immediately slowed by the fact that TiVo, itself, announced new, innovative devices while the PR guys were twirling the story to The NYT that cable was quashing that very innovation. It later came out that TiVo is having an internal battle over whether to market through cable companies (it turned down a negotiated deal with the largest operator) or try to continue simply marketing on its own. The happy customer out in San Francisco should give TiVo a hint. Hopefully, the FCC will also learn, as The Times reporter didn’t, the difference between what’s going on in the marketplace for devices like PVRs and the spin of PR. Maybe the "V" now stands for "volume!"

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