TiVo and the BBC force programming on consumers.
May 26, 2002 10:32 PM   Subscribe

TiVo and the BBC force programming on consumers. The BBC apparently paid TiVo to command all its boxes -- without consumers' permission -- to record an episode of a drama the BBC marketing department deemed a must-see. Users can't even delete the recording -- it'll be there until TiVo decides to remove it. Can TiVo users expect to be bombarded with paid advertising after all? (ZDNet article here.)
posted by mattpfeff (29 comments total)
The way the article describes it, the BBC is only paying TiVo to reserve their programming somewhere that the subscriber can access for free if the subscriber chooses to do so. The subscriber loses no service and gains an extra viewing option for a week. Or is the extra title listing itself a little too spammish? I have no TiVo (or TV, for that matter), so I'm only guessing. If it is extra spammy for all to see, TiVo should offer an option to hide such sponsored extras from program listings; it would be technically easy and would restore things to normal for all people who choke on anything that smell even a little like spam.
posted by pracowity at 10:41 PM on May 26, 2002

It'll be interesting to see if they try this in the US.
posted by kindall at 10:45 PM on May 26, 2002

They say this is a result of trials they already did in the US.

I thought this was a big deal until I realised that the content is downloaded in a separate area to the regular storage, so it's not taking up any of your regular space, and it doesn't get downloaded if you have scheduled something to be downloaded yourself, at the same time, and it asks you if it can switch channels if you happen to be watching something at that time.

So if this is what they need to do in order to stay operational, more power to them.
posted by SiW at 10:55 PM on May 26, 2002

They just did this in the US. Blockbuster teamed up with Tivo and they just sent everyone, including me, a Sheryl Crow video in the "showcases" section on the Tivo along with 4 ads. You don't have to watch them and you can't delete it. You get a little email telling you about the video. I watched parts of the video, its your standard corporate rock stuff and checked out the other 4 features which were not listed as ads. They had normal names like 'Fish' or something. A typical spammer trick to get you to look.

Its no big deal really, the space its on is a reserved space that I can't use anyways and its there for Tivo to make money and deliver surprise content. A while ago they were supposed to deliver a Francis Ford Coppola interview but I never got it. Instead I get Sheryl Crow.

Personally, I dislike Tivo as a company. The second you sign up they start spying on you. You have to make the effort to call and get off their spy program. A month letter you get a letter telling you they're no longer watching your viewing habits.

What they're doing in England is ridiculous, and shows their desperation. Every month I wonder why I'm paying the $13. I'm expecting Tivo to crash and burn and be replaced with a company making set-top boxes that are affording with no spy crap that gets its listing from the web or some other free source. When I move I'm probably going to ditch directv/tivo and go with ReplayTV if it isn't sued into non-existance.
posted by skallas at 10:58 PM on May 26, 2002

I think it's not the least bit fair. You pay for the control of a certain amount of space, and they're taking that away from you by forcing you to accept and keep it. Shame on TiVo.
posted by holycola at 11:34 PM on May 26, 2002

Yeah, I got the stuff in the Showcase section, but those are short, they are not full-length programs as apparently the BBC is running there. Apparently that reserved space is bigger than anyone thought.
posted by kindall at 12:33 AM on May 27, 2002

Hold on kids - the BBC is a public service. It's supported by the British public under a TV tax called a "licence". The BBC was given permission to open up a profit-making wing ("BBC Enterprises") but there are strict limits on it. I have many, many concerns about the BBC paying to send spam advertising direct to peoples' TVs via a subscription service like TiVo. It just seems like a step too far and a waste of the money I'm paying the BBC.
posted by skylar at 12:36 AM on May 27, 2002

> Hold on kids - the BBC is a public service. It's supported
> by the British public under a TV tax called a "licence".

Is the BBC 100 percent supported by licence fees or is it expected to partially pay its way under some evil Tory scheme to make everything profitable? It makes most of its money from fees, by the look of it, and some from selling programming abroad, but if the government is pushing the BBC to make money, you have to allow it to act like the other commercial television corporations. This page says they intend to scrape up an additional billion pounds or so by 2006.
posted by pracowity at 12:57 AM on May 27, 2002

I quite like the idea of TiVo - but I don't like the idea of paying a monthly subscription for it. I don't pay a subscription for my video recorder, so why should I have to pay monthly for TiVo?

Then I got thinking. I have at home a fast PC with lots of spare disk space. Surely it must be possible to record directly onto hard disk, pausing and restarting wherever I wanted? OK, so I wouldn't have the EPG, but I would have full control over what got recorded.

This is probably a stupid question. I bet loads of people are already using their PCs like this. What would I need to get started? A TV tuner card, but what about software? I have digital cable, so would it be possible to record the digital stream directly, or do you need to convert it to analogue with the set-top box and then re-digitise it?
posted by salmacis at 3:10 AM on May 27, 2002

Salmacis, I presume a Google search will answer a lot of your questions. I've been thinking of building the same sort of machine. I want to take it one step further and have a set of Perl scripts that will periodically grab the TV Guide data from the Web and parse it for shows that I'm interested in. It'll be months before I can work on it since I'm moving cross-country in a few weeks time.

My main gripes with Tivo are:

1) Paying for monthly service after purchasing it. This is the main reason I have yet to buy one.

2) This "reserve" space crap. Can you imagine buying a PC and having so many extra gigs on your harddrive set aside for advertising downloads? I want access to as much recording room as possible.

3) It's not network enabled. (At least not the last time I looked into one.) I want to be able to offload shows to a video CD via the PC.
posted by Qubit at 6:06 AM on May 27, 2002

I quite like the idea of TiVo - but I don't like the idea of paying a monthly subscription for it. I don't pay a subscription for my video recorder, so why should I have to pay monthly for TiVo?

I like the idea of Everquest, too, but I don't like the idea of paying a monthly subscription for it. I don't pay a subscription for any of my other games, so why should I have to pay monthly for Everquest?

But anyone who has played Everquest knows that the difference between it and most other games is the access to the persistant online world. That's what makes the game what it is.

Tivo is sort of like that. Until you use a Tivo for a couple of days, you probably don't understand the value of the monthly subscription fee. Unlike your VCR, the monthly subscription buys you access to the downloadable programming schedule, which lets you schedule recordings incredibly easily, as well as tke advantage of most of Tivo's features (like Wishlists, Tivo Recommendations, etc.). Despite the hypey way it sounds, Tivo does revolutionize the way you watch TV.

More on topic, I have two tivos and there have been times when Tivo automatically records a program that is completely contrary to the kinds of programs I ask it to record or the types of programs I tell it I like. What's more, both of my Tivos have recorded the same program, leading me to believe that there is a possibility that the company Tivo has the ability to tell all of the machines to record specific programs for whatever corporate reason they want.

Still, I wasn't forced to watch the program, and I just deleted it. Problem solved.
posted by crunchland at 6:45 AM on May 27, 2002

Holy lord. I like that Tivo records neat stuff for me without me asking, because sometimes I just don't know what's out there that I might enjoy. Anybody with a reasonable mind knows that they don't have to watch this stuff. It's also reasonably easy to "hack" your Tivo to turn off a lot of stuff that you don't appreciate. When I pulled my hard drive out of my Tivo I discovered that it was a 40gig instead of the 30gig that the box advertised. I plan on throwing a second drive in there so that I can record even more stuff - and I can have Tivo record even more suggestions for me. I imagine that extra 10 gig is reserved for the OS and the showcases. Well, there's no false advertising there in my mind. You buy the box expecting a 30 gig drive and you get exactly that - 30 gigs of space to save your stuff. Sheryl Crow went in the spot of the drive that I didn't pay for, and it didn't invade any part of my tivo to have her live in my Tivo until she wore off.

By the way, I was able to delete her. The interface is incredibly easy to use, so I don't know how anybody couldn't delete the Sheryl Crow show. Perhaps a call to Tivo support or a visit to Tivo Community could enlighten the ones who don't know how.

I don't think I could live without my Tivo. I've played with the alternatives - UltimateTV and ReplayTV, and neither matched up nearly as well as I'd hope. Not to mention, the unit is more expensive. They say it's because you get the service for free, but you still end up paying more in the long run if you want to upgrade your box. With Tivo, if I want to upgrade and buy a newer box a year or so after my first one, I pay the (lower) price and then I just switch my service to the new one. The only time you wouldn't save money doing that is if you had the Lifetime Tivo service on the original box. So let's say I had Tivo for one year and switched - I paid $400 for the unit plus $156 for the service, that comes out to $556, which is still cheaper than the competition and I never had to even look at the advertising. Replay usually runs a few hundred dollars more than Tivo and you pay that extra few hundred dollars every time you upgrade, no matter how long you use it before you purchase a new one.

The only gripe I've ever had about Tivo was that my hard drive burned out about 3 months after I bought it, but I fixed it myself and the process isn't difficult at all.
posted by karaleah at 7:29 AM on May 27, 2002

"the monthly subscription buys you access to the downloadable programming schedule"

This isn't worth thirteen bucks to minidish satellite users: there is already a data stream with program information. I've been pondering picking up some kind of PVR but a monthly fee is off-putting considering what the devices cost up front and the fact that you have to upgrade to a dual LNB rig and run another cable into the house.

If I could avoid the second LNB, there's a possibility I'd overcome my irritation over the fees and spring for a PVR, but the probability is not large. Thirteen bucks for doing what my receiver already does when I press the "Guide" button on the remote is pretty steep, and more so if they're spamming. They have to make a decision -- either the service is or is not ad supported. I already pay enough for Hughes' advertising as it is and I'm disinclined to pay some other party to spam my screen.
posted by majick at 7:37 AM on May 27, 2002

Build your own TiVo.
posted by briank at 8:53 AM on May 27, 2002

OK, so full disclosure: I used to work for ReplayTV. Currently work for a subsidiary of a sat tv provider.

First, if what you want is "no monthly service fees," check out Replay. Whether you like it over the TiVo seems to be a personal-preference issue; personally, I like the Replay interface better, but maybe that's because I spent some time hanging out with the guys who designed it so I have the "mindset" thing. You'll pay more up front for your Replay, but as I said, no monthly service fees.

I'm so addicted to the Replay that when it wasn't working for a while (new cable provider and I couldn't get the stupid IR blaster thing working) I just stopped watching TV because it was so damned frustrating. Being able to sit down and go, "oh, yeah, the new Enterprise was on last night, I think I'll watch it" is so worth the money for me. Not having tantrums from the kids because they're watching cartoons when it's dinner time is so worth it to me ("just pause it, you can come back to it later").

Now, as to the content bit: we're getting into one of those areas where the problem is that the bit of hardware you bought is worthless without the service (well, not worthless, you can still use it as a pause-and-skip buffer, but...). And the service you've got is only provided by the manufacturer of the product.

What needs to happen for there to be real "choice" about this is for somebody to come up with an "alternative" TiVo/Replay service, which provides a different set of features and whatnot than the "default." You might pay more... but you might not. Would you rather pay for your service, or have an add pop up on the screen when you hit pause? I'd rather pay for it, but some of you might be willing to deal with adds and stuff.

Oh, and as to the guide thing: the big advantage over the guide on my (admittedly low end) satellite box is that the Replay has the next week's worth of guide on the local disk, so I can page forward and select what I want to watch, say, next thursday. This is really slow on the satelite-box guide (so slow that I don't actually know how far forward it goes, I always gave up after one or two tries at looking ahead).
posted by hob at 8:58 AM on May 27, 2002

TiVo's policy has always been that they have reserve space on their units. For a 30 hour unit, you get 30 hours of recording time, plus the reserve time for TiVo content.

This is also not the first case of TiVo including content, they've done that from the very beginning with their TiVo showcase service.

This has always been an additional revenue stream from them, now they are simply utilizing a more direct way to get to the consumer. Frankly, I find TiVo's service much to valuable to lose if they go belly-up.

I personally dislike the fact that you have to use a phone line, but since that was the option offered, someone has to pay for those phone lines. A better alternative would have been to let you punch in your ISP's data and have the box connect through your dial up ISP to their servers.

And as for the statistics they keep on their users... well frankly I say more power to them. It's data that is not linkable to an individual consumer, but rather aggregate information. And if it helps save a show that is destined for cancellation based on Nielson ratings, than absolutely. How many quality shows are killed because the people in the Neilson rating system didn't like something. I've never liked the rating system that is currently being used, and if TiVo can offer additional information, then that's great. (Example: 40% of tech-savvy Tivo using adults 18-45 watched Titus this week, and of that, 5% hit their fast forward buttons at least once.) While that is a completely made up stat, it is just to highlight my point. By offering additional stats, perhaps networks won't be so quick to cancel shows that highly sought-after demographics are watching.

Finally, if you don't like it, use something else. Get yourself a TV tuner card, and MPEG2 recording software, and use your PC as a TiVo box. It won't change the channels on your cable box for you, but you'll be able to record basic cable.
posted by benjh at 9:17 AM on May 27, 2002

"the bit of hardware you bought is worthless without the service"

I don't know about anyone else, but this is the deal-killer for me. Why can't I just plug the thing into my network and have it scrape the data it needs off the DirecTV web page? The data's there if the rate of accumulation over the sat itself is too slow.

Why should the device stop working if some schmoe with a bad business plan goes under? Even DIVX "DVD" players still work as DVD players today, after those clowns went out of business. The "service" is a schedule database, and that's data that is readily available without forking over thirteen clams. If Tivo takes a dive -- which would come as a surprise to no one considering how little liked PVR makers are by TV networks -- I don't want to be left holding the bag. It's not even possible as far as I know to point the devices at an alternate data source, or if it is, I'm sure it takes some unpleasant hackery that shouldn't really be necessary.

Stick an Ethernet port on it, yank out the modem, nix the monthly fee, make entirely dependant on the signal provider and not some third party, and ditch the dual-LNB requirement and I'd go for it in a heartbeat.

Although a pony would be nice, too.
posted by majick at 9:35 AM on May 27, 2002

I don't understand why the cable companies haven't started putting hard drives in their set-top boxes and calling it a deluxe digital service. I already have the two way communication with Shaw that allows them to download TV schedules and upload my pay-per-view orders.

As far as the use-a-computer option goes, I have no desire to either shell out a couple of grand for an extra "entertainment centre" computer or to run a six-conductor cable snake from my computer hutch to my TV.
posted by timeistight at 9:56 AM on May 27, 2002

An interesting resource about using a computer as a TiVo is titanTV. I haven't looked at it in great depth yet, but they seem to offer the ability to download listings that can be used with several PVR programs.
posted by the biscuit man at 10:43 AM on May 27, 2002

I don't understand why the cable companies haven't started putting hard drives in their set-top boxes and calling it a deluxe digital service.

I do believe cable companies like NTL and Telewest are considering this, alongside video on demand and X Boxes you can plug into the STB for online gaming. Unfortunately these companies are massively in debt and have little opportunity to do new and revolutionary things. Sky (satellite) has a combination PVR and STB called Sky One
posted by Summer at 11:28 AM on May 27, 2002

As one of the many TiVo winners, I must say that paying for the box was the problem for me -- paying a subscription to the program listings didn't bother me at all. And, now that I have DirectTV, getting them through the satelite is quite nice (and I pay DirectTV the "TiVo" fee).

It's terribly addictive, and I easily admit that I hate visiting friends and family without one. My wife just gave birth on 23 May, and I hated that we couldn't recycle the programming or timeshift some programs I'd missed because of the new baby's schedule. I so wanted to be home, because I could get my interests back on the screen....

I've tried all the tricks, and can't delete Sheryl Crow. No biggie, since it isn't my disk space, but I am wondering how others accomplished it. Oh, and when I broke down and bought my current receiver (via OrbitSat) as a combo DirectTV receiver and TiVo. Well worth the money, I think. Plenty of room for Teletubbies and Sumo Bashos.
posted by dwivian at 11:48 AM on May 27, 2002

the problem is that the bit of hardware you bought is worthless without the service (well, not worthless, you can still use it as a pause-and-skip buffer, but...)

That's just not true. You can still program it to record stuff; you just don't get the program listings. Obviously it's not as easy to use without the service, but the box is far from useless without it.
posted by electro at 1:03 PM on May 27, 2002

Why do Tivo owners have this false belief that the info they send somehow trumps the old Neilson system. Has this happened anywhere? As far as I can tell its just a gimmick and no one wants to give up the Neilson system because its been so profitable for so long. Unless advertisers demand Tivo statistics no network is going to switch over. Its in the interest of the networks to pretend that most people watch commercials. Tivo data would show an unfair amount of commercial skipping and that means lost revenue next time they're deciding advertising rates.

Also, I'm just being prepared about the whole privacy thing. I have no guarantee that Tivo won't change their privacy policy Tuesday morning and send out all sorts of info on me. I'll share data when I have real protections, but no one wants to offer a privacy policy that cannot be changed.

I also don't understand why I'm paying to get the programming guide when I have a direcTivo. The schedule data is already coming through, but Tivo simply needs that $13 a month. Realisticly, the program guide isn't worth $13, that's just what Tivo needs to stay in business.

The box isn't useless without the service, but it doesn't even support VCR plus codes so it kind of makes it more useless than a decent VCR.

For the most part I like the Tivo but I'm ready to jump ship. I'll probably pay extra for a replay box and not add on to my monthly bills.
posted by skallas at 1:53 PM on May 27, 2002

If you don't like paying the monthly TiVo fee, upgrade to a lifetime subscription. Used to be, a TiVo plus a lifetime sub cost exactly the same as a ReplayTV. I'm not sure how it washes out now, but with DirecTV/TiVo boxes for $50 the last time I looked, I think TiVo probably still comes out ahead.
posted by kindall at 2:11 PM on May 27, 2002

Having had DirectTV, I can say that the scheduling info I get on the TiVo is more extensive than what I got from DirectTV, without amazing wait times. It's a minor convenience, but well worth the $13 a month. But, I'm upgrading to the lifetime -- I agree that not having the recurring charge would be better.

ReplayTV only offers one week, last I heard. TiVo offers two weeks of data, and I can work within the software to decide what I like to record, and what I don't want. The suggestions capacity is not available in ReplayTV, either, as it has no ratings system. TiVo says they don't take your preferences out of the box, so I trust that privacy restriction, but it does make me wonder, from time to time.

A clincher for me against ReplayTV is that they have a worse privacy guarantee than TiVo, in that they pretty much tell you that, in exchange for no fees, they are going to sell your viewing habits. I've yet to hear of an opt-out for that collection. TiVo has an opt-out, but you get no discount for doing so. I have no idea when they'll replace Nielson with this data, but I can easily see how marketing people would love to see what commercials get watched, rewatched, etc. It helps focus the marketing strategy by target group. Maybe the networks don't want it, but any number of advertisers must be drooling to see how well Britney did during the SuperBowl (most rewatched commercial, as TiVo announced the next day after gathering all their nightly data), or how that BellSouth ad did, or the anti-smoking one with the lady going offroad after a rider lights up, later saying "you endangered my life, I'm just returning the favor."

I don't know how I feel about having content pushed to me, just yet. As long as it is my option to view, I'll probably not care.
posted by dwivian at 3:26 PM on May 27, 2002

Summer: the Pace digibox with a console inside is actually a Dreamcast.
posted by nedrichards at 4:32 PM on May 27, 2002

Tivo lifetime is $250, I think. Still cheaper than ReplayTV.

As for not having to use a phone line, there is a way to make your Tivo do call-outs over the internet. A search for "Tivonet" should turn up some stuff for anyone who cares to check it out. You'd have to purchase a little equipment and modify your Tivo but it can be done. I'm going to be doing it myself as soon as they come out with a working wireless solution. I think that Tivonet cards might even be available on Ebay.

It voids your warranty to upgrade your Tivo in any way, but the warranty is worthless anyway. I found this out when I contacted Sony about my failed hard drive. For a replacement on my "defective unit" I would have to pay nearly the cost of a new Tivo.. that's why I fixed the hard drive myself and saved myself all the cash.
posted by karaleah at 5:01 PM on May 27, 2002

Summer: the Pace digibox with a console inside is actually a Dreamcast.

Actually I was thinking of the Telewest/PS2 deal. I got confused.
posted by Summer at 5:12 AM on May 28, 2002

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