TiVo down, Google up ... so what?

Jim Barthold

The Merriam-Webster dictionary (http://Merriam-webster.com) defines TiVo as "to record (as a television program) with a DVR." How do I know? I Googled it, that's how.

It's funny how words take on new lives. When it was first introduced TiVo was a novelty; then it was a necessity to the point that it became a verb, as indicated by Merriam-Webster. Most recently, it's fighting not to become an afterthought in a world where cable, satellite and telco providers routinely offer a digital video recorder using the much more difficult moniker DVR. While you probably won't hear anybody say they've DVR'd the football game (more likely they'll say taped), you're increasingly less likely to hear anyone use TiVo as a verb.

According to the San Jose Mercury News "The venerable San Jose-based DVR maker is bleeding subscribers and cash, its revenue slumping. A high-profile deal with Comcast hasn't panned out."

That's the bad word from Silicon Valley. Of course, being Silicon Valley, the bad news is tempered with the optimistic. TiVo, the newspaper continued, is on the "cusp of a turnaround;" its prospects are bright and its future looks great.

If you're at all cynical and you've been following any industry trends-most notably the move to put more and more content in the Internet cloud and less and less in storage in consumer electronics-you might look somewhat askance at that prognosis. Of course only time will tell.

That's what you can say for Google, the latest shining star on the Silicon Valley scene; only time will tell. Google TV is joining its counterpart Apple TV as the latest methods by which the next generation of consumers will get their video entertainment. And Google, which is backed by the Microsoft crowd (read that as Intel) is even more threatening because its goal is to supplant cable TV. Apple, perhaps to be politically correct, has maintained it will be a supplement.

Anyway, to hear the geek-evangelists speak, Google is the answer to higher cable bills, set-top boxes, cumbersome program guides, DVRs (uh-oh, TiVo, maybe things aren't so bright) and, on any given Sunday, your grandmother's annual bout with bronchitis.

If you don't believe these folks, just Google it. There you'll find evidence that the messiah is at hand, that cable is dead and that the Internet has won.

The big problem is, like TiVo, we've been there, done that before. Cable has been doomed more times than the economy has been resurrected. Blogs (not a direct result of Google but a byproduct) are filled with subject lines like "watch cable TV for free" or "see how to get free satellite service with your computer" or "throw away that cable box and watch TV on your computer."

In the bad old days, these kinds of proclamations were restricted to one-inch ads in the classified sections of electronics magazines and pursued as piracy. Today they're mainstream projections of a Pollyanna world where all content is created equally free.

It might happen this time. Seriously, it might. But it won't happen without cable, just as today's DVR happened with TiVo but didn't mass produce without cable. Want to bet the house on Google TV? Go ahead, in this real estate market your property is probably not worth that much anyway. But, taking all odds into consideration, your chances of winning are probably better waiting for real estate to recover than they are waiting for Google to conquer cable.

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Since many readers were otherwise occupied with holidays, the last days of vacation and the vagaries of the IBC trade show last week, you might have missed the details for the first FierceCable 15. If so, here's what you need to help bring your company's accomplishments to my attention as being among those 15 deemed to be the industry's most innovative. http://www.fiercecable.com/story/setting-rules-first-fiercecable-15/2010-09-07