Tivo, RSS, Gluttony

We recently purchased Tivo for the house.* Like many users, we got Tivo not because we’re TV junkies, but because we don’t have time for TV. When we do sit down to watch, we want to spend less time, and we want to watch better TV. For the most part, the formula is working – we’re no longer spending a third of our time watching (or trying to navigate around) commercials, and we’re not watching whatever crap happens to be on once the boy is down and the dishes done, just to enjoy some well-earned veg time.

But there’s an unanticipated consequence: Suddenly we have a library of shows we like at our fingertips, always ready to watch. As a result, there’s suddenly the desire to watch more TV, not less. Oooo! All in the Family re-runs! Let’s stay up! That’s not how it was supposed to work.

It struck me that this phenomenon is exactly like the backlash against RSS that some people are experiencing. At first, RSS feels like a great time saver — I can skim 10 sites in the time it used to take to skim one. But RSS readers make it so easy to harvest lots of great content that you have this tendency not to save time, i.e. to move on and go do something else after your daily news gulp, but to spend more time overwhelming yourself with information.

Who can eat just three M&Ms? The tantalizing aggregation of desirable content that Tivo and RSS readers provide only gives you the illusion of saving time; in truth, most of us are seduced by the overabundance that accompanies aggregation, and merely dig ourselves deeper into the content hole. Aggregation lends itself to gluttony.

The key to dealing with content overload is not just in finding better tools to manage the flow, it’s knowing when to get up and walk away.

* We’re feeding the Tivo via antenna, still not willing to pay $50+/month for cable** when we would only want a couple of extra channels; the inability to purchase cable channels on an a la carte basis should be a case for the feds. While there are some good arguments explaining why you can’t just buy the channels you want, it’s still an abuse of monopoly, as I see it).

** Basic cable is only $14/month, but we already get 90% of what we’d get with basic via antenna. We do have a reception issue with the antenna that we’d like to improve upon (most local stations are transmitted from San Francisco, to the west, except for NBC, which comes from San Jose, to the south; it’s tough to make one antenna receive from both directions happily without an antenna rotator, so we might end up doing basic cable for the duration of the Olympics at least).

Music: Stevie Wonder :: All Day Sucker

12 Replies to “Tivo, RSS, Gluttony”

  1. Great analogy…

    I remember a few years ago telling you how I didn’t understand the hubbub over RSS, and how bookmarks suited me just fine… But then one day I decided to give NetNewsWire a go for a week or so and I never turned back… :)

    Tivo is a feed aggregator, just a feed of a different kind…

  2. I think my feed consumption has doubled since when I first started getting into RSS 4 months ago. I’m fat on information and I have an insatiable appetite for more.

    I don’t really need Tivo in my life. BitTorrent and Animesuki.com keep me busy enough. OOH! 57 more episodes of something to download!

  3. Until recently I, too, didn’t understand the hubbub over RSS, as bookmarks suited me just fine… then I gave NetNewsWire a try, and now I still don’t understand the hubbub over RSS :-)

  4. I also subscribe only to the basic cable package. I refuse to shell out more money for a cable bundle that included channels I didn’t want. I want to be able to select on a channel-by-channel basis.

    With the proliferation of channels, I noticed that many of the good shows are moving higher up the dial (and farther away from the basic channels). If I want to the Sopranos or Six Feet Under or Celebrity Poker, I’d would have to at least pay at least another $50/month (Cdn).

    My solution? My cable TV provider is also my ISP and they charge me $42/month for internet service. So I download mpegs of the Sopranos, burn them to VCDs, and watch them on my DVD player. When I’m done, I erase the CD-RW and move to the next episode.

    Yes, I’m doing something naughty, but it’s my (minor) form of protest until they allow me to pick the channels I want. And they’re still getting my money.

  5. While there are some good arguments explaining why you can’t just buy the channels you want,

    Perhaps there are — but not in that article.


    BRITT: À la carte is really a step backward – you would end up with a lot less choice, less diversity.

    And we should believe you actually care about how much “less choice” we have, because….?

    I already have “a lot less choice”, because I don’t have a choice not to pay for channels IDGARA about!

    Besides, how do you know for sure what we’d “end up with” until you give it an honest try (as opposed to the dishonest, half-@$$ed tries your industry has so far condescended to offer us)?

    People like having maximum choice.

    À la carte is “maximum choice” — that’s what we’re arguing about!

    We carry many channels that appeal just to niche groups and minorities. It’s by no means clear those could survive in an à la carte regime.

    Well then, why don’t you try it and find out? Then it will be clear.

    Cable isn’t about having a few channels that appeal to everybody, it’s about having a lot of channels that appeal to everybody. You may not watch C-Span every night, but it’s good to know it’s there.

    Translation: “Cable is ‘about’ what we say it’s about, but I’ll sugarcoat it for you.”

    The myth is that if you pay $60 a month and get 100 channels, then you could buy 50 and cut your price in half. That isn’t how the economics work;

    Heh, I’ll say; being able to charge advertisers e.g. $0.50 times 100 channels makes you more money than charging $0.50 times 50 channels.

    there are a lot of fixed costs.

    That’s your business problem, not mine. What is my incentive to accept what you think I should have (see: Microsoft) rather than what I want?

    You’d most likely end up with people paying the same amount of money for fewer channels.

    Except that, as you very well know, a non-trivial percentage of them wouldn’t; which means that you’d have fewer sucke….er, customers, and that’d put a real crimp in the ol’ rent-seeking monopoly-profit picture, and that’d end your trip real quick, wouldn’t it?

    It’s analogous to a newspaper or magazine. Hardly anybody reads every article in the paper; you read selectively. But nobody says, “Gee, you should only buy the sports section if that’s all you want.”

    Nope, sorry, bad analogy; would it be impertinence to suggest that the very reason “nobody says” that is that newspapers are both cheap and easily-divisible?!?!

    If that’s what people wanted, yes. But the assumption is wrong.

    I continue to marvel at the ability of most companies (that is to say, most corporate “managements”) to perceive “demand” only selectively, and to claim not to perceive “demand” which doesn’t dovetail perfectly with their immediate, short-term interests (see: H-P and the Apple I; Xerox and the Mac; etc., etc., ad nauseam).

    Every time we’ve tried to offer more packages with fewer channels – more toward à la carte – consumers always went for the big packages.

    Might this alleged outcome have something to do with the way you deliberately structure the prices of your packages, and the fact that every time you’ve “tried to offer more packages with fewer channels”, you’ve guessed wrong, clumsily screwed it up, and then compounded your error by refusing to learn the correct lesson from it?!

    People actually like this service, which is why 90 percent of the homes in the country buy it.

    Are you really sure they “like this service”, or are they just the least dissatisfied with it (again, see: Microsoft)? And, are you really sure you can tell the difference between “like” and “grudgingly put up with”?

    Sorry, Mr. Britt, I call bull$#!+. I think all these “arguments” boil down to, “We don’t offer à la carte pricing because we don’t want to and don’t have to” (IOW “Go away, we’re making money”).

    And I haven’t even mentioned unacceptable contract terms, e.g. unilateral changes & lack of service-level guarantees. (If you’re really so concerned about your customers having “less choice, less diversity”, then you should never need the ability to change the terms of the contract unilaterally in order to, ooh, I don’t know, maybe, provide your customers with fewer channels all of a sudden, now should you?)


    That said, I don’t believe more regulatory legislation (especially from Sen. John “What First Amendment?” McCain) is the solution.

  6. Not that I don’t want a la carte cable service but don’t forget that production company’s like disney, viacom whatever tell the cable companies that if they’re going to pay for ABC and ESPN they’re going to have to pay for the other shit channels no one wants either. The cable companies don’t do a la carte because they don’t get a la carte from the producers. Until every tom, dick and harry decides they don’t need a new network to springboard with that one popular show it will continue to be this way.

    While I may never intentionally watch cspan it is there for when I’m bored or that one funny chick with the nasally voice is on talking about one of her books. 10 years ago you could order a la carte, almost, in Cordova Alaska. The cable company I had then offered 3 channel packages but again it would offer Sci-Fi with animal and cspan. You would pay something like 4$ month per channel grouping you got above ‘basic’. Not a big savings.

    The cable companies have no impetus to charge us $2 a channel per month so they won’t. The popular channels pay for the unpopular channels in our current market setup. We’d all be happy with the ‘unpopular’ channels getting the axe until it’s a channel we actually watch.

    No, better to develop tools like Tivo and HTPCs to deal with the oversaturation of good shows (did I just type that?) on different channels and put them in one cache for you to watch at your leisure.

  7. Hey Scot-

    You know, the whole “Personal Television”/”Harddrive Video Recorder”/”Personal Video Recorder”/etc. quagmire you find yourself in presently was one that I battled when I first started working for ReplayTV (right after I left Be, incidentally). I came from a passing interest in certain TV shows, but certainly being no slave to the television programmers’ timetable.

    Yeah, well, after getting my first test unit, that all changed. All of a sudden all the shows I could ever hope to be interested in were at my finger tips. I still wasn’t a slave to the programming schedule, but I was hooked into watching more programming.

    I wouldn’t change the situation of having more interesting programming (that I would otherwise not know about) at my fingertips, but it is pretty damning how it multiplies.

    As for the cable/satellite argument, I agree with the need for “a la carte” programming. That said, I still don’t have a problem subscribing to DirecTV (should my budget be able to afford it, that is). BBC America. That’s all I have to say (although with Graham Norton coming to Comedy Central…).

  8. The thing I find amusing as that people damn television (and by proxy, Tivo) for increasingly consuming far too much of their time, the reality is there is nothing inheritly wrong with TV as a medium. Sure, there is lots of garbage on TV, but there is also lots of interesting programming as well.

    For instance, I have seen many documentaries on PBS or Discovery that have inspired me to further research the topic at hand… Or there have been films that I have seen on television that I might not have seen otherwise, that have inspired me to seek out more of the director/actor’s work…

    There is bad TV, just as there is bad Radio and bad Newspapers, etc… What the Tivo (and to a degree, RSS feeds) allows you to do is have the ability to ignore the crap and focus on the good. Do I want to sit on the couch watching TV all day? No, but where do I sit when I read a book? On the same couch. It’s just another presentation and what you choose to do with it is really the problem.

  9. TIVO is rumored to be addressing the a la carte problem by offering content via Internet. Ultimately that’s the way we’ll see customizable content and build your own channel lineups — via networks. I don’t agree with the Time Warner lackey’s article – they’re a business that profits hugely on advertising and that has written off huge cost infrastructure upgrades that allowed them to add Video on Demand and VOIP phone services over the network they built out for cable modems. Their actual costs and profits are masked and hidden and obscured by the ad sales and the fact that they create and own a lot of the content they sell – and they don’t reflect reality. But the infrastructure isn’t there to do a channel on demand a la carte service via cable or sattelite and that may be their business problem not yours, but they have little incentive to build a system to sell you less.

    The convergence of set-top boxes like TIVO and PVRs in computers in an entertainment center are where the future of roll-your-own TV programming lineup lies. And even then it will be limited by what methods the material can be controlled and licensed. Why should a TV program producer franchise it to view on demand without commercials if commercials are the primary source of supplementing programming costs? An iTunes style model of pay per program viewing is going to be hard to sell to enough programmers to bring us a wide variety of content in the near future.

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