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Slate on Tivo’s Future

October 10th, 2002 · No Comments

I have never used the Tivo, but from all that I have read and heard I think it is one of those “cool things”. That doesn’t seem to necessarily translate into marketplace success.

Slate’s obituary offers some history lessons:

You can ascribe TiVo’s struggles to the business axiom known as “first-mover disadvantage.” Technology pioneers typically get steamrollered, then look on helplessly from the sidelines as a bunch of Johnny-come-latelies make billions. First movers, the theory goes, are too smart for their own good, churning out gizmos that are too expensive or too complex for the average consumer’s taste. The big boys survive their gun-jumping%u2014think of Apple and its proto-PDA, the Newton, which might have dusted the rival PalmPilot had the company merely waited a year or two to iron out its kinks. Smaller fry go kaput.

The technology roadkill that TiVo’s brain trust ought to be studying is Commodore, the defunct company behind the venerable Commodore 64 home computer. If you’re on the younger side of Gen X, chances are you learned to program a few lines of BASIC on a C64, which sold 22 million units in 1983. Nearly a third of all computers sold worldwide that year bore the Commodore logo. The conventional wisdom held that the company’s follow-up couldn’t fail.

Except it did. Miserably. The Commodore Amiga was a multimedia machine designed to become the centerpiece of the family den. The designers foresaw the not-too-distant day when people would jack their VCRs and televisions into a PC like the Amiga, which featured such revolutionary perks as a full-color screen (a big plus in the age of green-and-black Apple IIc monitors) and stereo sound. The Amiga could be a video editor, a gaming console, a musical instrument. Geeks were dazzled.

Joe Six-Pack, however, was stumped. VCRs and video-game machines had just recently made a splash in the mass market. Now Commodore was asking people to add yet another box to their living-room array. The Amiga suffered from an identity crisis that the company never solved. Was it a gaming machine? People were happy enough with their Ataris. A music synthesizer? Cheap Casio keyboards were ubiquitous. A video editor? The camcorder revolution had yet to take hold. The Amiga flopped, and Commodore slowly lapsed into bankruptcy. Now the Mac renaissance is being driven by Amiga-like multimedia features, much to the chagrin of busted Commodore shareholders.

Slate’s advice for Tivo’s survival: licencing.

Tags: Management

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