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TiVo Is Bad for Networks, Good for Families

This gadget made its way to my family’s living room a few years ago when I bought one as a gift for my wife. Yeah, I know. The ladies are thinking, "Right. He bought an electronic gizmo for his wife. Just like a man!" And that was pretty much my wife’s reaction, too, as she unwrapped it and quipped, "The romance is gone, isn’t it?" But in no time at all she was praising me in the gates for my gift-giving wisdom.

Let’s say you’re really into a History Channel program, and you get called away because the dog just coughed up a sock in the kitchen. After mourning that favorite argyle, you can go back to the set, rewind the show to where you left off and not miss a single educational moment.

Or how about when your teenage daughter wants to watch that cool program all of her friends at school are talking about? Just ask TiVo to find and record it. Then you can screen the show before she gets an eyeful of what the networks consider "real world" teen love. (For the younger kids there’s even a lockout feature and special Kidzone programming guide.)

Along with those family-friendly benefits, the DVR also helps with time management. For instance, instead of Dad gluing his backside to the couch for Sunday afternoon football, he can play it smart, toss the ball with the kids in the backyard and then watch the recorded game in half the time (skimming past those frustrating ads and racy network promos) later that afternoon.

In spite of my hurrahs, though, not everyone is ready to join the TiVolution. All that commercial-skimming, for example, has some people (mainly TV execs and their sponsors) worried that TiVo will destroy television as we know it. They reason that if America stops watching commercials, then advertisers will stop paying big bucks for the time slots, networks will flounder, and the whole industry will come tumbling down. As a solution, the makers of TiVo have suggested installing pop-up banners to promote products during skim times. But the truth is, before TiVo I used to grab my remote and channel-surf during commercials anyway (much to my wife’s chagrin). With my DVR I actually see more commercials. Just really fast. And if an ad is especially creative or has a funny monkey in it, I stop and watch.

The technologies in our ever-shifting world are changing by the minute. Families are being bombarded by questionable-to-horrific content in all types of media, including TV shows, CDs, podcasts, videos and movies. Teaching kids discernment in the face of that onslaught is an uphill battle. Upholding healthy and godly boundaries is even tougher. So whenever I can find something to help make that job easier, I’ll be singing its praises. Let the advertising chips fall where they may.

Of course, the industry is exploiting TiVo technology to its own advantage. When the DVR downloads new program information for its onscreen TV guides, it also sends info back. That’s right, TiVo watches what you watch. And it tattles. Earlier this year, Todd Juenger, TiVo’s Vice President/General Manager of Audience Research and Measurement, explained, "With TiVo’s unique ability to measure second-by-second viewership, as well as TiVo Trick Play features, including rewind, fast-forward, and pausing of live television, we have detailed insight into what moments actually hit home with viewers."

Some consumers are a bit skittish about that, but I don’t see the problem. If industry bigwigs want to use my viewing habits as motivation to create more family-friendly programming (and for that matter, more commercials with monkeys), then I say go for it!

Published September 2007