Whatever happened to TiVo?

August 9, 2004

tivoWhen TiVo was introduced at the January 1999 Consumer Electronic Show, it made a huge splash. Reporters and consumers alike were intensely interested in this revolutionary device.

After the launch, TiVo geared up with a huge marketing campaign, focused mainly on advertising. In 2000, Forrester Research predicted 34 million people would have a DVR by 2004.

The reality is that TiVo has only recently hit the one million subscribers mark, a far cry from the hype and predictions.

So what happened?

Truly revolutionary ideas do not become accepted overnight. It takes time to put a new idea into minds. Red Bull, Starbucks, Wal-Mart, Gatorade. All of these and many more new brands took a long time to get established.

Look at the annual sales for Red Bull:
1987: $1 million
1989: $2 million
1991: $10 million
1993: $24 million
1995: $88 million
1997: $137 million
1999: $451 million
2001: $895 million
Today: Over $1.5 billion

The biggest mistake when introducing a revolutionary new brand is spending heavily on advertising during the launch phase. (Depending on how revolutionary the new idea is the launch phase can last anywhere between one to eight years or longer.) The thinking is: “If we just tell people about our product they will be so blown away they will rush out to buy it.”


TiVo made this mistake and blew millions of dollars on advertising early on, when people were not yet ready or able to accept its brand message.

The more revolutionary the product, the less likely consumers will be to rush out and buy it. Brand building takes time. Brands need to penetrate the mind. The best way to get into a mind is with word of mouth. And the best way to generate word of mouth is with PR.

Tivo has received 5 years of terrific PR. And in my opinion, it was primarily the PR that built the TiVo brand. TiVo has become part of the vocabulary for any self-respecting television watcher. Now is the time to hammer away with a massive advertising program to greatly increase TiVo’s subscriber base. Now is the tipping point for TiVo. Too bad they wasted their advertising dollars upfront, when now is the time to be spending big.

Today, TiVo announced a $15 million dollar campaign. Not nearly enough.

I must say one more thing, I have two TiVos. I love TiVo. TiVo has changed my life.

I just hope TiVo can survive despite its high hopes, fanatical following and my love.