TiVo Fights Cable With Cute Ads

I have to admit something: I unplugged my TiVo in late 2004, and have used high-def Scientific Atlanta DVRs ever since. I was sad to see the thing go, and to this day, I have diminished TV enjoyment because of it. You may know what I mean.

TiVo has had hard times: the competition costs just $7 or $8 per month, no money down, and records HD without a Cable Card, or worse, the freakin' special permission you need from your cable provider to even get your hands on a Cable Card. TiVo says that it is in 4.4 million homes. According to a November 2006 eMarketer stat, DVR penetration will surpass 20% this year; that's over 22 million DVRs. You can bet the remaining 18+ million DVRs aren't ReplayTVs.

Today, TiVo puts on William Wallace face paint and shouts, "They can take our market share but they'll never take our playful, endearingly human personality!"

Launching the "My TiVo Gets Me" campaign, the company reminds us that we fell in love with it for a reason, a friendly user interface that has never been copied. The press release, excerpted below, seems targeted at those of us who have begun to ponder a return to the original DVR, especially since the Series 3 has begun to come down in price.

I know Lam is considering a Series 3. Soon, maybe I'll be ready to order one up too, then beg and plead for a Cable Card. The last time I asked, Time Warner Cable was my provider. The installation involved a "truck roll" plus a request for seemingly unnecessary info about my setup. Now I have Cablevision, so it might be different. If you have a Cable Card—either for a Series 3 or some other DCR product like a HDTV—please tell us if your experience has been positive or negative. Seriously, lay it on us, no matter how ugly (or pretty).

From the TiVo release:

The vast majority of technology lacks essential human warmth and character. But there is a technology that represents a dramatic departure from this standard: TiVo, the original Digital Video Recorder (DVR), which its creators endowed it with a playful, endearingly human personality, in the tradition of beloved movie icons such as Kitt the talking car from Knight Rider. The result? People instantly connected with it.

Since its introduction, an entire pop culture movement has anthropomorphized the TiVo brand to the point where people regularly refer to the "TiVo man" as "him" and the company often hears examples of subscribers thanking their TiVo box as if it were a human being. Picture the average owner of a photocopier or standard VCR having that type of relationship with those devices. Then compare that to how passionate TiVo subscribers are. The difference is undeniable.

Today, 8 years after TiVo pioneered technology with the human touch, it stands at the forefront of an emerging new generation of technology distinguished for its unique ability to connect with people, inspiring enthusiasm and loyalty, rather than frustration. It has sparked a pop culture phenomenon and given birth to an incredibly passionate following eager to sing its praises, often in uniquely human ways. Parents have created home-made costumes to dress their children up as "the TiVo man" for Halloween. Mothers have written to TiVo touting its benefits as a tool to help them breast-feed and potty train. A fun-loving couple in the Bay Area named Tina Kwan and Andy Szeto are having their wedding cakes specially designed to showcase TiVo bride and groom characters on top. Their entire wedding theme is a celebration of their love of TV and of TiVo—and in the ultimate tribute, TiVo is "invited" to the wedding and will be given a place of honor just like a member of the family when they walk down the aisle on May 12.

Not only do 4.4 million households rely on TiVo to "get" them every day, but TiVo has spawned numerous blogs, including 237,000 entries, as well as popular fan-generated websites such as TiVoLovers.com. There are currently 535,000 references to TiVo on MySpace.com and 450 YouTube videos spotlighting TiVo. Google search yields 22 million TiVo hits. Over 12,300 references have been made to TiVo on TV within the past year alone—not paid ads, but editorial mentions, including thousands of organic references by everyone from Ellen DeGeneres to Carson Daly, whose creative team dreamed up weekly segments called "Fun with TiVo Freeze Frames" capturing everyone from Larry King to Paula Abdul. In the popular Colbert Report on Comedy Central, TiVo is practically a regular on the program—organically cited 54 times on the program since February 2006. The episode of the popular CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother which aired the day after the Super Bowl was a virtual homage to TiVo, featuring the main characters praying to the "TiVo gods" to capture every minute of the Super Bowl for them while they were obligated to attend a funeral on the day of the Big Game. This was not the result of a heavily orchestrated product placement campaign but instead a completely organic occurrence attesting to the extent to which TiVo has penetrated pop culture.