Thursday, October 29, 2009

#64 - DVR

It was the decade when...

Tivo became a verb.

Programming the VCR. Bane of 80's suburban Dad's everywhere, convinced that it can't be that difficult, their heads buried in sahara-dry instruction manuals for hours on end to no avail, I've yet to meet the soul who truly conquered the beast. Just getting the clock to display the time correctly was a feat of technical prowess that demanded the precision of an FBI bomb defuser. Most raised the white flag of surrender and only taped shows when they were in the physical proximity of the machine, pushing the magic red button on and off for every commercial break. Even then the finished recording was a whole tier of resolution worse than the original broadcast, like a red shirt faded pink after too many washes. Recording television was just more trouble than it was worth.

But there were dreams. Dreams of a different kind of VCR, though they seemed so fanciful at the time that few could foresee how swiftly they would be realized. Imagine a machine that records television programs with an easy to use graphical interface, minimal hardware manipulation, and infinite replay capability. Dream further that one could pause live Television and then fast forward through the commercial breaks. Finally, envision that your recordings are as crystal-clear as they were when they were aired and will not decay whatsoever with time. Well, sometimes technology does not merely skyrockets. Such was the promise of Tivo, the world's first popular Digital Video Recorder aka, the DVR.

Tivo revolutionized the way people watched television, much to advertisers chagrin. (I, for one, haven't watched a commercial in 4 years.) It also obliterated the idea of TV being aired in an "schedule;" programming was now an all-you-can-eat buffet. Tape what shows you want, as much as you want, and watch at your leisure. When the On Demand feature rolled around, the menu went a la carte too. With Tivo, you could tape a series over a long period of time and watch all the episodes in a single binge of couch potato nirvana.

Funny thing about Tivo, few who Tivo (verb) actually own a Tivo (noun). Like Kleenex before it, the brand name became so associated with the product that competitors are often referred to by the moniker of the original. What most consumers actually have is a DVR box provided by their cable company. For only a nominal fee more on their monthly bill, cable customers could add DVR service to their account, all but making real Tivo overpriced and superfluous. Such is the way with technology brands that actually set the trend; they are doomed to watch imitators make the profits on their ideas.

The near future is as obvious as it is inevitable: Shows wont be recorded so much as selected. Airtimes will be renamed "download dates." Only live events like the Oscars and the Olympics will be able to maintain large communal viewership, and even these events are no longer tele only media moments; they are supplemented by online liveblogs, webpage links and informational podcasts. The commercial as we know it will die and you can bet the farm we will see product placement in programming like never before in reaction to the loss of commercial dollars. The financial model of a television business without commercials is as of yet nebulous. Things will get worse before they improve. The era of television uniting an atomized country in a million separate living rooms has passed. TV has become Tivo. No consumer dislikes the innovation and flexibility of DVR. It makes TV that much more addictive. It may also kill it.

You AUGHT to remember...

No comments:

Post a Comment