An Open Letter to Tivo First let me say that I really like Tivo, so this isn’t a Tivo bash.  Tivo specifically and DVRs in general have changed the way millions of people and myself watch television programming.  Not only do they change the nature of TV watching by letting us choose when we want to watch something, but also they let us skim and fast forward easily through commercials and the bits of shows we aren’t interested in thereby maximizing the value we receive from TV programming and minimizing the actual time we actually spend in front of the “boob tube.”  So again and number one, thank you for that!


Tivo Suggestions and the Great Netflix Partnership Suggestion

There are some things that don’t work the way they should with Tivo and I suspect other DVR systems and that’s what I’d like to talk about today.  Basically the rating system in Tivo (marking programs and movies with one to three thumbs up or thumbs down) does not work well enough anymore.

In the beginning it was great and could tell to some extent that if we liked Star Trek then we’d probably like some other science fiction series as well and from time to time episodes would appear in the Tivo suggestions list.  This method worked better for episodes of a series than it did for movies because if I click three thumbs up on a movie it means I like the movie and would like to see other movies like it, it does not mean I want Tivo to record that exact movie over and over and over which is what it does.

Netflix has a remarkable algorithm for figuring out what movies I’d like to see based on my ratings of other movies and further increases its accuracy if I fill in taste preferences which describe how much I like or dislike general themes like “Campy”, “Dark”, or “Cerebral”.  In just the last week or so a group of people has just beat the Netflix challenge to beat their predictions by more than 10% so in the near future I expect Netflix to get even better at determining what I’d like to see.  So the first thing I’d suggest is a possible partnership between Tivo and Netflix to license their rating system to drastically improve the logic of figuring out shows and movies on TV that I’d like to see.  By adding something like a “powered by Netflix ratings” that Tivo users could select to sign up for the real Netflix (which also already streams directly to the Tivo box) using the user information they’ve already given to Tivo (in other words a one click signup to Netflix from inside of Tivo) I suspect they could reach an arrangement that increased the value of the Tivo service immensely without costing them a ton.

This might involve some changes on the Tivo side which is essentially using a 6 star system (three thumbs down to three thumbs up) to Netflix’s 5 star system but I suspect that changes would be minor.  In fact although the thumbs up and thumbs down concept was cute to start, I wouldn’t be opposed at all to changing that to a basic 5 star rating.

Season Pass Snafus

Another area that causes problems are season passes to programs like The Daily Show or The Soup because Tivo sometimes can’t tell whether shows are really first-run or not.  Requesting first-run episodes of The Daily Show can yield up to five episodes a day as they rebroadcast it on Comedy Central.  Recently my season pass of the soup also started spam recording multiple copies of the same episode of the new Web Soup which is still titled The Soup under Tivo’s TV listings and in fact recorded enough duplicates of Web Soup so that it squeezed out the actual copy of The Soup it originally recorded.  Life is difficult enough without my weekly fix of Joel McHale making fun of celebrities.

I think Tivo can enhance the listings they provide with things like a program checksum or guid which uniquely identifies each unique episode of a series to prevent duplicate recordings and also build more (and higher quality) information into their listings.  For example some programs run a minute longer or start a minute later, etc.  Although you can set this up manually in a season pass there’s no reason Tivo shouldn’t already know that information about a program through the hard work of the Tivo Listings providers.


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