Friday, September 16, 2016

TiVo, Where Art Thou? (And Where's My "Lifetime" Service?)

In the early part of this century (or millennium, however you want to style it - around the year 2000, dammit), I purchased a TiVo.  At the time, I was a hardcore television junkie. I wrote in a previous blog how watching television  is a like a second job (the average American watches 34 hours of TV per week), and I was a textbook example. I spent a lot of time wrestling with video cassettes, setting timers, screaming bloody murder when I accidentally recorded over something I hadn't watched yet...

For me, TiVo was almost like the second coming. It could record tons of shows, I could watch them in any order I wanted, I could get a "season pass" and record every episode of a program - it even learned my preferences and recorded things it thought I would enjoy.  Frankly speaking, within weeks I was wondering how I had ever lived without it. (Had that uncultured, uncivilized Neanderthal with the VCR and box full of VHS tapes truly been me?)

Fast-forward a decade-and-half: TiVo and I are still going strong, a powerful and graceful symbiosis of man and machine. And then the rug gets yanked out from under me: TiVo is being bought by entertainment company Rovi. The buyout in and of itself wasn't terrible news - companies get bought and sold all the time. However, what almost sent me into a raving fit was the fact that the combined company is no longer going to support the TiVo Series 1 (which, as you might guess, is the series I own).


Apparently, Rovi's current software won't run on the Series 1, which is the first generation of TiVo devices.  Adding insult to injury is the fact that, when I bought the thing, I paid like $200 for the Tivo "Lifetime" service (referring to the Tivo subscription service that provides software updates, scheduling info, and so on). Granted that 15+ years is certainly a long time, it doesn't quite meet the definition of "lifetime" in my opinion - not when both I and my TiVo are alive and kicking.  And make no mistake: my TiVo still works.

As you can imagine, I'm a little PO'd about the entire situation, as are plenty of other TiVo owners. To give them credit, TiVo has attempted to mollify the masses by giving us $75 gift cards (which I have yet to receive, mind you).  Taking that into consideration, I'm sure someone will say that I should be satisfied.  After all, bearing in mind the value of the gift card, it would mean that over a fifteen-year period I spent $125 for service that regularly costs like $15/month.  But I'm not satisfied, dammit. I paid for Lifetime service; I want the effin' Lifetime service!  Like the guy in the Xfinity commercial below, I believe that if you sell a product or service, it should work:

Basically, if you sell a lifetime service, it needs to work - and be available - for a lifetime. Not a day, not a year, not a decade.  A lifetime.  Can you imagine the response I'd have gotten if our situations were reversed?  If I had called up TiVo a year ago and said, "Hey, I'm not going to be using my TiVo any more - I've unplugged it and now use it as a paperweight. Can I get a refund on the balance of that Lifetime service contract - say, $75?" They would have told me to eff off, that a deal's a deal, and then suggested that I perform an anatomically impossible act upon myself.

See, those mother-bleeping bleep-sucking, mother-bleepers would have demanded that I honor our deal, so I'd be within my rights to demand no less of them. I expect corporations to exhibit the same level of integrity that I expect from natural persons.  Still, it's probably not worth wrangling over legally (although I could see a class action lawsuit arising out of this).  It'll just have to be enough that I never buy another TiVo/Rovi product again.  Of course, I had the same mindset with respect to the lack of backwards compatibility for the Playstation 4, initially saying that I'd never own one and later breaking down. Somewhat. (My wife bought it for me.  What was I supposed to do, tell her it was a terrible gift???)  

In short, while I know I should never say "never," at the moment I feel that the odds of me ever buying anything from them again are somewhere between slim and none.  And, as they used to say in the old days, slim's outta town...


  1. This is partly why I hesitate to purchase movies from Comcast. I know they are one of the big guys right now, but what about in 5 years? 10? 20? Will I still have my copy of Dirty Dancing available when I want it? So I feel your pain. Maybe they meant a dog's lifespan, not yours!

    1. This is actually why I am so hesitant about cloud-based services. Advertising makes it seem as if the cloud is going to be there for eternity, but sooner or later that data is going to be lost in the shuffle to new hardware/software/coding or just considered obsolete and dropped. I enjoy Steam and Amazon's eBooks, but there is a reason I like my hard copy media. I don't want to find out a company or the whole cloud-based storage concept gives up the ghost in a few years depriving me of access to all the books, movies, and games that I have purchased through them because that was the only way they were available anymore.

      I'm even more hesitant when you look at stuff like Playstation Store and the Wii Store and so on. They can't even keep backwards compatibility with their latest system, so am I going to have to keep buying new digital copies as new consoles come out and the old ones become obsolete and broken? And when they decide to stop making this or that game available for whatever legal or financial reason, what's going to happen to my digital copy? Will I get one final chance to download it again, or am I going to lose it forever because I didn't back it up on degradable physical media?

      Digital content makes so many promises but seemingly neglects to address the pitfalls in the future. Like they are saying if the company goes under and you lose access to that stuff, well I'll be out of a job anyways, so I don't care.

  2. I actually agree with you on this in principle. But I have to try and make a case for the other side with an example.

    Many MMORPGs most notably those that begin with a subscription plan but not all or only those offer at the initial outset of their service, an option for Lifetime Membership. Pay anywhere from $300-500 and receive 'Founder' status. A somewhat dubious honor that really only shows itself if you play the game for the next 3 years and/or if they switch to a Free 2 Play model with subscriptions. Now while this option is actually pretty good, barring the fact that it is usually only offered for a period of 7-30 days prior to or right after launch and you can't be sure the game will be worth it, the fact of the matter is I don't think any of us reasonably expect a game server to be running for a lifetime.

    Yes it would be wonderful for example to keep logging into Star Trek Online, Final Fantasy XI or XIV, Wildstar Online, or Star Wars: The Old Republic to name a few that have had 'Founder' Lifetime subscriptions offered. But even if by some miracle the player base remained intact for 20+ years, yeah I see you heading there World of Warcraft, but the company is unlikely to keep those servers online and I can't really see a court of law doing anything more than telling them to get better lawyers and change the wording of the offer next time.

    Unless technology experiences some sort of exponential boom that would make current game hosting the no more difficult than the equivalent of having a spare USB Drive or SD Card around, then eventually they will shut those servers done. Either because the technology or the software is outdated and it's just not financially beneficial to them anymore.

    So while I would love to see it, I don't really expect it. Most of those MMORPG lifetime subs, clocking in around $300 means you've gotten your moneys worth if you play for 24 months and then some. And if that 'Founder' status includes all expansions, then something like World of Warcraft service over 10 years after launch would have been incredible how much money you saved. But it's just not realistic. I agree, they should have phrased it better. And in fact, maybe they did. Maybe it said, "for the life of the product, service, company" or whatever. I do agree that the new company should honor the old companies deal though, but not at a complete loss. They could have given you the option of the $75 to buy you out because you were using the service up until now, or offer you a discount on one of their new boxes, assuming it cost more than $75.

    1. I can follow you halfway down the rabbit hole here. Maybe if the device failed after a certain period of time (ie, after it's estimated "life" - not like a month after purchase), then perhaps there's an argument that the lifetime service contract was fulfilled. Outside of that,however, I'm not on board. The fact that technology advances and makes a current offering obsolete or expensive to maintain isn't the end user's problem in a situation like this; the company needs to suck it up and make good on their promise, whether that means transferring the subscription or something else.

      In truth, I'm probably an outlier here; the company probably never expected me to keep my TiVo this long. It's a lot like those car manufacturers who provide a 10-year warranty on their vehicles. They know that traditionally people only own their cars for a 3-4 years, and even in today's tough economic environment the average length of ownership is like 6 years. In short, they never expect to have to pay for 10 full years of maintenance except on rare occasions. Likewise, I'm sure TiVo was banking on the majority of buyers upgrading within a couple of years. Someone like me was costing them money, but I tend to hang on to things for a long time: My TiVo is over 15 years old. The television it was attached to is almost 25 years old. In the past 20+ years, I've only owned 3 cars. (Yes, when it comes to long-term ownership, I'm a friggin' 5-Sigma event!)

      Basically, I understand TiVo's dilemma, but this is a bed of their own making. Customers shouldn't be the ones forced to sleep in it.

    2. seriously? a tv from 25 years ago? wow

    3. LOL! Yes. The kids occasionally complain about how they can't read the digital content (like when they bring up scheduling info), but as long as it's still working we're hanging on to it. (Oddly enough, the life cycle of that particular television was supposed to be 8 years, if I remember correctly.)

  3. I want your take on all you can eat restaurants. Can a person just stay there all day eating breakfast, lunch and dinner for hours on end? If the store is closing, does them kicking you out invalidate your all you can eat purchase?

    (I was just watching that Simpsons episode where Homer sues the sea food restaurant after they kicked him out because they were closing and he wasn't done stuffing himself even though he had already eaten 40 pounds.

    1. Your question puts me in mind of an old "Bob's Big Boy" commercial, where this family (husband, wife, and teenage son) are just sitting down to dinner when the door opens and this stranger comes in. The wife and son give the stranger an odd look.

      Wife: "Frank?"
      Son: "Dad?"
      Wife: "We thought you were dead. I'm remarried now."
      Old Husband: "I said I was just going to Bob's Big Boy to get some shrimp."
      Wife (frustrated): "That was 15 years ago!!!"
      Old Husband (in a matter-of-fact tone): "It was all you can eat..."

      Anyway, with respect to an all-you-can-eat restaurant, my experience is that the offer is usually limited in some way, like "All you can eat breakfast" or "All you can eat lunch buffet." In that case, I'd say your purchase limits you to the designated meal. Moreover, most places usually have their meal times posted, so you're also aware of when the meal ends.

      If, on the other hand, the restaurant advertises an "all day buffet," there's an argument that they may be stuck. There would only be a question of when the "day" ends. However, just like bars can cut you off if you have too much to drink, restaurants can conceivably take the position that they cut someone off for safety reasons - because consuming an excessive amount of food in a single sitting has certain health risks. Regardless, I think standard convention is that any all-you-can-eat offer ends when the restaurant closes, so you can't stay there indefinitely like the guy in the Big Boy's commercial.

      (Also, I remember that Simpsons episode. Marge testifies that after they were kicked out they drove around all night looking for other places they could eat. After getting her testimony, I remember his lawyer saying something like, "Now does that sound like a man who'd had all he could eat?")


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