Tivo’s UK subscribers have permanently lost access to one of the service’s flagship features, the ability to automatically record programmes which you might find interesting. The new is another blow to faltering hopes that Tivo will make a renewed effort to build up business in the country.
While there are plenty of digital video recorders on the market, Tivo has a fundamental difference at the heart of its service. Rather than simply offering a TV schedule to pick programs from, Tivo actually runs on a full-fledged database of programme information including genre, actors, directors, and the like.
This database powers several useful functions such as automatically recording new episodes of a series but not re-runs, or recording any film starring a particular performer, regardless of the channel or timeslot.
The service can also analyse the programs you watch, along with feedback you give by pressing ‘thumbs up’ and ‘thumbs down’ buttons, and produce a list of shows you are likely to enjoy. You can even set your Tivo machine to automatically record shows on this list whenever there is spare disk space.
Unfortunately for British subscribers, this feature has been out of action for the past month. Bob Pony, Tivo’s marketing chief, has now posted on a support forum to say the loss is permanent.
It’s down to the fact that British Tivos still run on a much older system of the software which powers the service. That’s largely because no new machines have been produced for several years since the only hardware licencee in the UK, Thomson, pulled out of production. The service itself continues to this day, with users able to pay a monthly fee or a one-off lifetime fee (roughly equivalent to 20 months’ subscription).
Tivo recently changed the format of the listings database (which it receives from an outside firm). While that’s fine with the current software for US Tivos, the UK software can’t process suggestions data with the new listings system.
The change has increased pessimism about the service’s long-term future in the country. Thanks to a combination of poor marketing and a successful (albeit inferior in many respects) rival product produced by leading satellite TV provider Sky, Tivo has a UK customer base estimated in the tens of thousands. With no sign of a new hardware deal or a software update, basic arithmetic suggests the service can only survive while there are still enough monthly subscription payments to fund the supply of listings data.
There is one bright cloud for hardcore users though: Tivo runs on Linux which means there’s a dedicated community of programmers producing unofficial tweaks and features for the system. While it won’t be much help to the average home user who doesn’t follow message boards, there are already attempts underway to create an alternative suggestions feature.