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WILL TIVO TURN BUZZ INTO BUYS?

Jul 7, 2003  •  Post A Comment

I hate “Sex and the City.” The HBO comedy oozes with smarmy double entendres that only seem edgy because they come from the mouths of babes. If the show starred a bunch of guys, it wouldn’t last more than a season. In fact, it didn’t. It was called, “The Mind of a Married Man.”
But that said, I watched “Sex and the City” last week. And you know what? I may watch it again. In its final season, the show has introduced an exciting, trend-setting new character.
His name? TiVo.
Miranda, who is played by Cynthia Nixon, has vowed to give up men forever to concentrate on a new relationship with her digital video recorder. The red-headed attorney says that TiVo, which offers show recommendations based on previous viewing choices, understands her better than any man could.
The wacky plot twist, which is expected to continue through several episodes, is great publicity for TiVo. However, the company did not pay for the product placement.
Show producers added the TiVo angle because the DVR service has become a cultural touchstone, similar to Tony Soprano, Harry Potter and “American Idol.” That’s why network producers have also name-dropped TiVo in “Friends” and other prime-time shows. Unlike “high-definition TV,” or some other new technology term, the audience immediately gets the reference.
TiVo’s emergence as a household term is remarkable when you consider that it’s in very few households. Despite the buzz, TiVo has just 700,000 subscribers after five years.
If everyone’s talking about it, why isn’t anyone buying it? Will it ever turn buzz into buys?
Free Publicity
First, TiVo’s popularity among entertainment elites is not an accident. To generate free publicity, the company has distributed free receivers to numerous celebrities. “These are people who are influential with consumers and who have a big impact on pop culture,” TiVo executive VP Brodie Keast told Fast Company magazine last year.
Many businesses have tried this technique in the past and failed, but TiVo has succeeding in winning Hollywood’s heart because it’s a great product. The DVR service, which enables you to pause live TV and record 80 hours of programming without a videotape, puts the TV viewer back in control. FCC Chairman Michael Powell, who is not prone to gushing, has called TiVo, “God’s machine.”
But quality is not synonymous with success. To reach critical mass, a product needs luck and timing as well as the application of good business judgment. TiVo, which hopes to reach the 1 million mark by year-end, has experienced problems with all three.
For instance, a few years ago, the company placed too much emphasis on retail sales rather than focusing on licensing and partnerships. Consequently, cable TV operators launched their own DVR services, which could limit TiVo’s growth potential. If a cable subscriber already has a DVR service, why buy a TiVo?
TiVo also has to compete with the VCR. Most consumers are still happy with the VCR, particularly when they hear that TiVo requires a monthly subscription. That will change a few years from now. But today it’s more trouble for TiVo.
The DVR service has certainly captured the nation’s attention. But capturing a bigger audience may prove even more difficult than finding a worthy beau in “Sex and the City.”
Phillip Swann is president and publisher of TVPredictions .com. He can be reached at Swann@TVPredictions.com.