PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

Rise of the Ti-vangelicals

Once in a while, something becomes so ubiquitous that I get sick of hearing about it. I have now reached that point of burnout critical mass with TiVo, the subscription digital video recorder service.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with TiVo, it’s basically a hard drive in a rudimentary computer that is connected, via phone line, to a database that contains all the TV listings for your area. You can do some cool things with it, like set it to record a program every time it airs, or record one program while you’re watching another. You can do a few other things with it, but basically, you’re paying $10 or $12 a month for a machine that does the same thing that VCRs have been doing for decades.

How cool is it?

The die-hard TiVo loyalists will go on and on about how cool it is to fast-forward past commercials, or how nice it is that TiVo automatically records their favorite shows (even though it occasionally records the wrong programs or cuts off the beginning or end of a show). They talk about the days before they got TiVo as if those were the dark ages. In their eyes, TiVo is the greatest thing since sliced bread! They’ll never miss a TV show again.

To which I have to reply….Big freakin’ deal! I’ve been doing that for over 20 years with my VCRs, and I don’t have to pay a monthly service fee. Essentially, TiVo is for people who have been too lazy to figure out how to operate the timer function on their VCRs. Whenever I talk to these Ti-vangelicals they get a peaceful, spiritual glint in their eyes while they talk about how easy it is to record a show when they’re not home. I feel like I’m dealing with a lapsed Amish person who’s experiencing electricity for the first time. Where have you people been for the last quarter-century?

Watch this?

Last year I made the leap and bought a DVD recorder. One of my VCRs crapped out on me, and I lucked into a great deal and upgraded to a wonderful Panasonic model. Now, I never missed taping a show that I wanted to watch before that–and I tape obsessively–but the DVD recorder added the one feature that TiVo offered that I couldn’t duplicate with a VCR. I can now start recording a show, and then halfway through I can start to watch it from the beginning while it’s still recording. This is the major selling point for TiVO. It’s the big feature they hype in all their ads.

But you know what? In the 13 months that I’ve had the DVD recorder, I’ve never had any need to use this feature, even once. I haven’t decided which it is yet, but in terms of necessity, the “watch while you record” function is either a bell, or a whistle.

Now that Charter, my cable company, offers Video On Demand, the need for something like TiVo is even more questionable. I can choose any program from the movie channels and watch them whenever I want to. So I don’t even have to bother taping “Rome” or “Extras.” They can be summoned up at the touch of a button. Charter also offers a TiVo-like DVR, but it costs an extra ten bucks a month and isn’t much better than TiVo. I can do a better job with my various recording devices, and I don’t have to pay any extra for the priviledge.

What’s more bizarre about this phenomenon is that TiVo does some really horrible stuff, too. I mentioned that it can cut off the beginning and end of some shows. It also records shows that it thinks you might like.

Republicans are watching

Let’s say you record an episode of “Beverly Hillbillies” because it had an interesting guest star on. TiVo will remember that, and one day you’ll come home and your TiVo will be filled with dozens of episodes of Beverly Hillbillies. And TiVo keeps a database of what you watch, to allow it to do this. You just know that information will find its way into the hands of Republicans, someday.

Do you really want a record kept that shows that you watch “Saved By The Bell” and “Real Sex” back-to-back? Also, when you fast forward past a commercial, TiVo has developed a method that gives you a pop-up ad for the same product while you’re skipping the commercial. Pop-up ads? On TV? And people are paying for that?

And the disc does fill up, so you have to go through and delete shows every so often. If you want to keep a show, then you have to record it to a VCR or other outside device. One report says that 30 percent of the programs recorded on TiVo gets deleted without being watched. It seems to me that TiVo causes more headaches than it cures.

“TiVo” has become a generic term for a DVR (digital video recorder), which can’t be good news for the folks at TiVo. Every week or two a new article pops up in a trade magazine about how TiVo is doomed. Yet the Ti-vangelicals still run about, blathering about how “I TiVo’d this last night” or “I’ll be sure to TiVo that.”

Come on people. Say you recorded it, and get over yourself! It’s just a video recorder. You pay extra each month because you can’t figure out how to set the timer. We get that. Now move on.