Most companies dream of becoming a household name. But for TiVo, the pioneering technology company that first let you rewind live TV, fame has created an identity problem.
Since debuting digital video recording at the Consumer Electronics Show in 1999, TiVo has become so ingrained into the mainstream tech vernacular that it's taken on an almost generic status. You "tivo" a show, like you "xerox" a document, or "google" a phrase—even if you're not using TiVo's set-top box or software.
"People will know we talked about TiVo and think they have TiVo, a generic product that's not even ours," grouses vice president of communications and public relations Steve Wymer. "So great, we just advertised a product for our competition."
With Roamio, a new line of hybrid set-top boxes being unveiled today, the San Jose-based company is hoping to make its star-crossed customers fall in love with the real thing all over again.
It's not a coincidence that Roamio harks back to the tragic hero in Shakespeare's famous play. "It's a total double entendre. Roamio as in 'O Romeo' and love interest that's truly there—truly for lovers of TV," explains CEO Tom Rogers, a longtime media boss who served as CEO and chairman of Primedia, and before that as president of NBC Cable. "And Roamio in the sense that one of the key new features in this platform, wherever you are, you can connect with your TV recordings."
Like its predecessors, Roamio represents a single destination for all viewing: pay TV, over the air, and streaming services.
"You shouldn't care where the content is coming from," emphasizes Jim Denney, vice president of product management. "What you should care about is us leading you to the content and shortening the distance between you and what you want to watch. That really should be the focal point."
The low-end TiVo Roamio retails for $200, offering antenna support and four tuners, which allows viewers to watch and record four shows simultaneously. The mid-ranged Roamio Plus and top-of-the-line Roamio Pro both cram in six tuners, cable compatibility, and TiVo Stream, a feature that makes shows and movies viewable on mobile devices. Aside from the price tags, their primarily difference is their hard drive capacities: 1 TB for $400 and 3 TB for $600. The software has also been sped up, with the Roamio Pro performing 1.5 to 2.5 times faster than the previous Premiere line, depending on what's running.
But specs aren't why "Tivotees" signed on to the company's bustling community forums back in the day. And winning back customers has proven a difficult road for companies that have lost grips on once-loyal fan bases. BlackBerry has never quite recovered from its former addicts leaving for the iPhone’s svelte form factor. Once beloved by shoppers, JC Penney has alienated customers with shifts in its sales strategy. TiVo likewise faces challenges ahead, especially in the age of cord-cutting where a premium subscription for watching TV can be a hard sell.
That's why TiVo is now offering far more than a set-top recording device.
To wade through thousands of channels and a sea of content, Roamio introduces new discovery features, including What to Watch Now, which highlights the most popular shows and movies people are viewing in real time. Roamio has also integrated technology from Thuuz, a startup in Palo Alto that assigns excitement scores from zero to 100 for live sporting events as a way to help fans choose which sporting events to watch.
Search has also been revamped to highlight the most popular content, prioritizing TV shows over movies and sports. Denney demonstrates by typing in "b" on a Roamio box, and Breaking Bad shows up as the first result, over The Big Bang Theory, Big Brother, Band of Brothers, and the ilk. This has sped up how long it takes viewers to find shows and movies: Most searches are completed within three characters.
In addition to pioneering DVR, TiVo was an early player in second-screen apps. Recognizing the impact the iPad would have on viewing, it released its first iPad app in January 2011. The iPad has come to play a prominent role in the deployment of new TiVo technologies ever since. Virgin subscribers in the U.K., for instance, can use the iPad in lieu of an actual set-top box.
"When apps came out, they were basically glorified guides for tablets," Denney says. "We integrated a lot more functionality into it. Not only could you get your guide, you could get shows. It told you what you were watching at a given time, had discovery tools built into it, search, browse. This was all built into one experience, and this was two years ago."
A second-screen app, according to Denney, should act differently depending on the context: to function as a control surface like a remote control, to aid browsing and discovering new shows and movies, to deliver content to mobile devices regardless of location, and to enhance the viewing experience.
"Whether that's recommendations or sharing views of what's going on in a show, there are ways to do that, which we think will more and more personalize the television viewing experience," Rogers says. "Some of that you'll see reflected in What to Watch Now. Later, it'll find its way in other innovations."
But Denney says what will be most challenging is creating an app experience that can adapt to the content shown.
"If I'm watching a movie, don't bother me," he explains. "It's not a one size fits all. Don't distract me. Don't pretend to distract me. If you complement what I'm watching, that's great."
After all, internal research has found that consumers often think of TV either as a form of escapism, a way to forget the realities of life, or as background noise.
One of the first hurdles TiVo had to surmount was simply explaining to potential customers how a DVR worked. It now faces a similar challenge—but this time it has to prove that its DVR is better than the one your cable company already offers.
For the Roamio launch, the company will unleash a marketing campaign that casts its lovestruck hero Roamio in an edgy, provocative, and suggestive light (for a set-top box, anyway). Imagine a commercial with a sultry Antonio Banderas-like voice saying: "Call me at this number for the hookup you've been waiting for." Or a campaign called Everybody Cheats, drawing on a common household dynamic where people watch recorded TV shows in solidarity with family members, partners, or roommates.
The company is also partnering with Grouper, a site that facilities group dates among two sets of friends using Facebook. The connection to television here seems pretty loose. TV shows make for good first-date conversation fodder, Wymer notes. There's also the number connection. "We're loving the double entendres," he says enthusiastically (repeating a phrase that obviously resonated well in meetings). "We have six tuners in this box we're bragging about, six people on these dates. … And then we're going to socialize the hell out of it and promote it so people know."
For a company that's had trouble reaching consumers with its messaging, implementation is vital. But will sex help people realize TiVo offers more than DVR? Can group dates drive the right kind of brand awareness? Rogers weighs in on the suggestiveness of the upcoming campaigns, saying it’s a way to distinguish TiVo from the messaging of cable operators, TV manufacturers, and other players in the space.
"It's a fun enough message with enough difference to it that being a little provocative will get those messages through," he says.