DirecTV Teams with TiVo for Personalized TV

TV fans "will never have to miss another minute of their favorite shows," said Larry Chapman, executive vice president of DirecTV, in announcing his company's investment in TiVo Inc. The direct-broadcast satellite (DBS) provider has bought a 10% interest in TiVo as part of its campaign to expand its line of services.

Like its rival Replay TV, TiVo makes hard-disk-based video recorders that provide television viewers with a new degree of flexibility. A program recorded on a TiVo machine can be watched any time---including just a few minutes after the program's actual start time. Unlike traditional VCRs, hard-disk recorders let scenes be played or paused while the broadcast is in progress. The degree of time shifting is unprecedented, and video quality is said to equal or exceed that of VHS tape. The total capacity of these machines is 14 or 30 hours of programming.

"Personalized TV," as Chapman describes it, is the next step in video-delivery services---part of a larger trend known in marketing circles as "mass customization." The Wall Street Journal's front-page "Business Bulletin" of April 29 defines the trend as "a response to consumers' desire for individual treatment in an increasingly impersonal world." The Journal quotes W. Michael Cox, chief economist at the Federal Reserve Bank in Dallas: "If you don't mass-customize, you're going to lose business in today's marketplace."

Chapman and his associates apparently agree. "Our investment in TiVo, along with our marketing partnership, furthers our commitment and support of the personalized TV concept," he says. "We partnered with TiVo because we believe they offer the best available solution for bringing personalized TV to our subscribers. TiVo represents the latest installment in our 1999 interactive roll-out strategy." More interactive products and services are coming later this year, he notes.

DirecTV, TiVo, and Philips are collaborating on the development and marketing of a Philips-brand DirecTV receiver that will allow viewers to get both DirecTV programming and TiVo's personalized TV service in a single set-top box. According to a DirecTV press release, "A lifetime subscription to the TiVo service with a 14-hour Philips Personal TV receiver is $698. A 30-hour receiver with lifetime subscription is priced at $1198. Alternatively, customers can choose from monthly or annual TiVo service packages at $9.95 and $99, respectively, and Philips Personal TV receiver configurations at $499 for 14 hours and $999 for 30 hours."

One limitation of hard-disk recording systems is that they provide no means for archiving recorded programs. Once the hard disk is full, something must be erased to record new material. In addition, the recordings are not very portable. Unlike videotape, it isn't easy to take your TiVo recordings to a friend's house to enjoy a movie after dinner. Perhaps these shortcomings will be addressed as the technology develops.