Television has come a long way since the days when you turned on the set, waited nearly a minute for it to “warm up,” adjusted the antenna for better reception, and then decided which of the three channels you would watch.
It's an entirely different experience today, in part because of TiVo, the digital video recorder (DVR) introduced in 1999, making the VCR obsolete. Now viewers can record shows and easily scan through commercial breaks.
Other DVRs followed, but in the industry vernacular, people didn't record programs any more, they “TiVoed” them.
This week TiVo introduced a new product, the TiVo BOLT, a DVR it says will completely change the viewing experience once again.
"The TiVo BOLT arrives at a time of piqued interest in both connected devices and commercial avoidance," said Tom Rogers, TiVo's President and CEO. "The clear demand of consumers is for a TV experience that quickly delivers them exactly what they want the instant they turn on the screen. BOLT is a game changer that will remind people of how they felt the first time they experienced digital recording."
The BOLT will be sold at retail stores starting October 4 but is available online now. The 500 GB version is $300 including the first year of service, then $150 a year after that.
It's fair to say that advertisers and the TV and cable networks they support hate TiVo and other DVRs because these devices allow viewers to watch content and avoid the commercials that pay for it. And TiVo says the BOLT now makes it even easier to do that.
BOLT allows viewers to skip entire commercial breaks in a single bound at the press of a button. It's called the Skip Mode feature. Somehow, the device senses the beginning and end of program content and the start of commercials.
Hurry up and watch
For viewers who don't really have time to watch a lot of TV, there's something called QuickMode. It speeds up the program by 30%, without making the actors sound like chipmunks. The company says it enables the average viewer to potentially recapture a month of time in his or her life each year.
There is also a money-saving feature. TiVo says subscribers can save money by getting out from under the rental charges of boxes the cable operator provides because one Bolt works on all TVs in the house.
"BOLT was designed to meet the requirements of a new generation of TV viewers," said Ira Bahr, TiVo's Chief Marketing and Retail Sales Officer. "Smaller form factor, 4K compatibility, single-screen integration of cable or over-the-air, plus streaming apps, the ability to take your content anywhere -- and for the first time, the ability to precisely jump commercial breaks at the touch of a button."
The real question is how content providers who depend upon advertising are going to respond to this existential threat. The more consumers who are able to avoid commercials, the less viable this long-standing business model is.
The answer will undoubtedly lie in technology. Already, some streaming content containing commercials has a feature making it impossible to skip over the paid insertions. If you want to watch the programs, the commercials must play.
It's a good bet engineers are at work trying to figure out a way to apply this technology to over-the-air and cable programming.