Variety: “Big TV Killed the DVR”

Great article — including the sad truth that industry forces are partly to blame for the stagnation of DVR technology. (Witness TiVo’s current experience with the Comcast Xfinity Cable Card — it’s awful — e.g. watching VOD forces me to cancel in-process DVR recordings.) I’ve been in the TV technology business for many years — even a first-ever interactive video clip game on DIRECTV’s DVR Plus. Right before commercial launch, the HR-20 DVR set-top had so many devastating unrelated problems that the launch was cancelled.

There’s a reason that DISH and DIRECTV are the only pay TV providers with a decent DVR product. The cable companies never had DVR on their list of top priorities, even at the height of the DVR boom. (For years I tried to get access to the “record API” — without success — even when Comcast was trying to market their remote record features. Now they are more widely available and @seeIT was recently launched as a Twitter play, but this is likely too little too late.)

Still — as a fan of the tech, I have hope for the DVR. Four reasons:

First, for those of us that are use to the great “trick-play” features of DVR — Fast Forward, Rewind, Skip — even Netflix doesn’t compare. If your kids interrupt you while watching a Netflix movie, it’s kind of a pain to find the spot where you left off. Trick play is a bit of a blind spot for OTT.

Second — these ‘VOD lock-down’ features are right on the border between annoying and offensive. It’s one thing to prevent users from skipping commercials, it’s quite another if you are preventing them from finishing a show they started at another time; or from watching the ending of a reality show; or the big dunk of the game; or the 2nd interview on Charlie Rose. No surprise that cable companies aren’t considering the maddening unintended consequences here, and surely capitalism is vibrant enough to take advantage — if not right now, perhaps in a year or two.

Third, there’s Aereo — which is (slowly) teaching us that if we simply put an antenna on our roof, we can use DVR computer software or boxes like Simple.TV to get a great DVR experience that no one can ever take away.

Finally, as mentioned above, there’s DISH and DIRECTV. They have a direct competitive interest in the technology, so they are continuing to innovate on it. While it’s true that the DVR has probably lost its long-term run as a “mass consumer” technology — the history of digital media is the history of fragmentation — fragmenting audiences, fragmenting devices, and fragmenting TV bundles. In that world — DVR will find a permanent home as a critical part of the video watching experience for those of us that simply don’t have the time or patience to watch TV at regular speed — it just feels like slo-mo.


Expert in video tech, TV biz, prototyping, product strategy, marketing & sales.

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