Perhaps a better title for this article would be “TiVo BOLT – For People Who Love to Be Informed, Enlightened and Entertained by Watching Free Over-the-Air Television or IP-Delivered Traditional Television Content Through a Set-Top Box Rented from a Cable, Satellite or Telco, but Hate the Commercial Advertisements that Subsidize the Content.” No matter how you spin this, the TiVo BOLT is a referendum on the state of the commercial television business. After all, you don’t really hate TV; you really hate TV commercials. You probably also hate the experience of trying to get all of your content to play on your big-screen TV. This is all about to change.
TiVo’s latest device, the TiVo BOLT, unifies access to all of your TV channels, streaming content and web videos. No more wondering which input is for Apple TV or your video player or Chromecast or which button to press to get to Netflix or YouTube or how to get to the library of content you have downloaded; it’s all on one box, in one place, and it can be accessed with one remote control.
While the grand unification of video is a huge benefit, the TiVo BOLT has two other irresistible features: (1) Skip Mode, which lets you skip entire commercial breaks at the press of a single button, and (2) Quick Mode, which lets you play back your shows 30 percent faster with pitch-corrected audio. In practice, you can watch a one-hour drama commercial free in about 31 minutes. (A one-hour primetime drama contains approximately 16 minutes of commercials and promotional announcements and approximately 44 minutes of program content. If you time compress 44 minutes by 30 percent and add a few seconds to allow you to click the Skip Mode commercial pod skipping button, you get to consume an hour drama in about 31 minutes – awesome!!!)
Awesome for Consumers, Awful for the TV Business
Fast is good. More TV is good. The TiVo BOLT is a binge watcher’s paradise. I want one for every TV in my house! But the reality is that this technology seriously undermines the business model upon which commercial TV is based. In fact, its mere existence should scream “WAKE UP!” to many television executives, although, for certain kinds of TV content, we may be past the point where the financial models can be reasonably adapted.
TV (the Platform)
TV (the platform), a distribution methodology that has evolved from a time when you needed over 200 different geographically located transmitters (TV stations) to provide television signals to all of the households with television antennas in the United States, is in the midst of an existential crisis. Tom Rogers, president and CEO of TiVo, explains, “So many people are abandoning free over-the-air television and cable channels. Why? Because they don’t like commercial breaks.”
This is unquestionably true but commercials pay for the lion’s share of the television dramas and comedies you love to watch. So no matter how you spin it, skipping commercials is bad for TV the platform – commercials are commercial television’s lifeblood.
TV (the Art Form)
TV (the art form) is in its platinum age. According to FX Research, there are over 400 original network television shows in production this year (a record high), up from about 213 just five years ago, and for the most part, they are awesome! Amazing stories, fantastic acting, remarkable cinematography/videography, astounding special effects, great music – by every measure, production quality is at an all-time high.
This is wonderful news – except for one little issue. While the number of shows in production and on the air has nearly doubled, the total audience has remained roughly the same size. So in practice (not counting the millions of online video choices), everyone has approximately double the amount of TV content choices they had just a few years ago. There is no way to put a positive spin on the oversupply of quality content; the reduction of scarcity guarantees a reduction in audience size, which in turn guarantees a reduction in revenue. There are simply too many talented people making too many great shows for the deficit-financing model of yesterday to continue to work in the future. This is one of many critical issues for TV, the art form.
Can the TiVo BOLT Kill All TV?
“No,” says Rogers, “it’s not going to affect news channels or sports channels; this is 20 channels with primetime entertainment, which is really where the frustration is.” I disagree. This technology is all about speed. I can wait 20 minutes before starting a football game and skip every commercial pod. I can wait an hour and a half, play back the game in Quick Mode and finish watching the game at the same time everyone else does, without seeing even one commercial. Like baseball, football is 10 minutes of excitement packed into three fun-filled hours.
A Proxy for TV’s Problems
I don’t believe that TiVo will sell enough of these to have an impact on the financial structure of the TV industry. I do believe that the TiVo BOLT is a proxy for the biggest problems the TV industry is facing. Tom Rogers is a good friend of mine, he is a seasoned broadcast executive and he speaks the truth: “What is happening now is they (viewers) are actually abandoning commercial television and fleeing to ad-free TV and streaming services.”
We will learn whether or not the TiVo BOLT will help keep viewers watching linear TV soon enough. In the meantime, go buy one (they are amazing), and while you are watching your favorite primetime hour in 31 minutes, while you are gleefully (and perfectly) skipping through every commercial pod with no commercial overshootage or premature playage, remember: with each press of the Skip Mode button, that cute little TiVo guy just stomped a little more volume out of next year’s Upfronts.