PVR Dance

Personal video recorders(PVRs)—or digital video recorders (DVRs), as they are sometimes called—may not be as inevitable in most consumers' homes as some experts are predicting. The reasons? Try invasion of privacy and deletion of desirable features.

TiVo, Inc. has announced that new generations of its recorder will include a sophisticated system for monitoring users' viewing habits. Data collected by the devices—such as exactly at which point in a program the channel was changed—will be marketed to advertisers and network programmers. TiVo plans to compile detailed information on the activities of more than 700,000 users and issue quarterly reports with in-depth analysis.

The move represents a sea change from TiVo's origin as a technology in rebellion against the hegemony of broadcasters. It could now become their most important tool, delivering far more accurate information about the likes and dislikes of viewers than Nielsen polls ever could. TiVo's user-tracking technology would inform programmers "second-to-second what is causing viewers to stay tuned or what is causing them to flip over to something else," said TiVo president Martin Yudkovitz. TiVo customers can opt out of being monitored, but most choose not to, according to the San Jose, CA–based company, which hopes to have one million subscribers by spring of 2004.

On June 12, Pioneer Electronics (USA), Inc. announced that it has signed a licensing agreement with TiVo to incorporate the company's technology in Pioneer-branded video recorders to be available later this year. The announcement makes Pioneer the most recent licensee of TiVo's DVR service. The agreement will allow Pioneer to create "new products that will add features to the standard DVR that consumers have not yet experienced," said Tom Haga, president of Pioneer's home entertainment division.

TiVo's primary competitor ReplayTV has caved in to pressure from broadcasters and will delete the 30-second skip feature and program-forwarding feature from new editions of its DVR. The soon-to-be-available ReplayTV 5500 won't let users skip commercials or send recorded programs to friends over the Replay network. The commercial skip feature had infuriated broadcasters, who feared that it could damage revenue from advertisers. That and the program-forwarding feature were the subject of copyright-infringement lawsuits brought against ReplayTV's previous owner, SonicBlue, Inc. by major networks.

In April of this year, D&M Holdings acquired ReplayTV for $36.2 million during SonicBlue's Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The ReplayTV 5500 will be available in August. D&M Holdings has stated that it will be sensitive to issues raised by copyright holders.