I own a TiVo- and I’ve used a Time Warner DVR- and that was all it took-instant understanding of why the TiVo experience is better- but, a Pepsi Challenge type campaign isn’t enough to change TiVo’s fortunes- TiVo has to do a lot more to gain market share- and the new ad campaign from Kaplan Thaler Group isn’t the answer.

From an article in the New York Times- TiVo is going to spend $15 million to try to change their fortune- and, unfortunately, they aren’t going to get it right (more on that following the excerpt)…

Avoiding Ads With TiVo? TiVo Strikes Back - New York Times
But how do you make a TiVo-proof commercial for TiVo? Executives at TiVo hope the answer is to hire an agency known for broad humor, talking animals and chirpy jingles, then approve a campaign centered on a silly (though eye-catching) visual device, meant to symbolize how much TiVo differs from generic DVRs.

The campaign, now under way, carries the theme “My TiVo gets me.” The effort, created by the Kaplan Thaler Group in New York, includes commercials on television and radio and in movie theaters, a pair of Web sites at whogetsme.com and mytivogetsme.com, (Next Wave: note- both link to the same site- and it’s all FLASH) contests, blog postings and promotional events in large markets like Boston, New York and San Francisco.

The device at the heart of the campaign is to bring to life the antenna atop the head of the “TiVo man,” the character shaped like a TV set that has personified the brand. The ads feature TiVo customers who sport antennas on their heads, which — thanks to the Stan Winston visual effects studio — seem as much a part of them as the remote controls they use to navigate the entertainment superhighway.

The campaign, with a budget estimated at more than $15 million, arrives as TiVo recorders and other DVRs loom larger than ever on the advertising landscape. Nielsen Media Research estimates that 17.2 percent of American households own DVRs and, according to an analysis by MediaPost Communications, penetration in television markets across the country ranges from 5.7 percent in Marquette, Mich., to 26.5 percent in Dallas-Fort Worth.

The proliferation of DVRs means that viewers are increasingly watching TV programs on a delayed basis rather than live. That in turn is leading Nielsen to rework its longtime methods for measuring viewership to count people who play back a program within one, three or seven days after it ran.

And because so many DVR owners fast-forward through spots rather than watch them, Nielsen plans to start providing by the end of May ratings for commercials in addition to its traditional program ratings. (TiVo has started supplying its own data to advertising agencies, showing second-by-second viewing patterns among its subscribers.)

TiVo, as the brand of DVR that has become synonymous with the category, is benefiting from the growing popularity of digital recording in the same way that brands like Band-Aid, Coke, Kleenex, Post-it, Q-tips and Xerox took advantage of similar synonym status in their markets.

But TiVo’s gains in subscribers have slowed significantly as more operators of cable TV systems sell their own — usually unbranded — DVR services.

As of Jan. 31, TiVo reported 4.4 million subscribers, 1.73 million who owned TiVo brand recorders and 2.7 million who had TiVo service through their DirecTV satellite service. The total was only 1.8 percent higher than the 4.36 million subscribers that TiVo had on the same day in 2006.

By contrast, subscriptions grew 130.8 percent from 2004 to 2005, and grew 45.3 percent from 2005 to 2006. (Subscribers who own TiVos pay $19.95 a month for one-year subscriptions, or $8.31 a month if they subscribe for three years.)

“We have spent the better part of the last year coming up with a list of significant differentiated features,” said Thomas S. Rogers, president and chief executive at TiVo in Alviso, Calif.

“This is a way to reintroduce TiVo the brand” in a way that will persuade consumers “to say: ‘I’m not interested in the generic DVR. I want the TiVo experience,’ ” he added.

Among the TiVo features described in the campaign are movie downloads through a partnership with Amazon.com, KidZone parental controls, the ability to share video clips with other TiVo subscribers and the ability of TiVo to “learn” which shows subscribers want

So-  how should TiVo solve their problems?

Well, first, hire an agency that really understands new media- back in November I went to a diversity trade fair and KTG was there- they had 52 pages indexed in Google- we had  260. Today those numbers are: KTG 47 and 447 for The Next Wave. To still have the idea that large geographical markets are the answer is missing the point of the Long Tail.

TiVo has experimented with funny ads before- to disastrous results. There was one about jock itch with Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott on the golf course. They’ve also been through a ton of agencies- including some of the best. Here is an example of early work attributed to Goodby Silverstein - a truly great ad agency:

And the sad thing is- this spot still works- no need to run new, different- or more entertaining ads- the problem comes down to a few things:

  • TiVo really should be partnered with Apple computer. The combination of the Apple brand which stands for ease of use- with TiVo which is the leader in ease of use would be magical. It would also be the right combination for recording and downloading- something Apple TV is sorely missing.
  • The market for TiVo is the early adopters- opinion leaders. TiVo blew it with their late intro of a HD TiVo- and then insulted it’s user base by charging exorbitant prices. It should be an advantage to be a current loyal customer- not a reason to be taken advantage of. I’ve almost switched to Time Warner just to get a HD box without having to take out a second mortgage.
  • TiVo’s true value hasn’t really been tapped- one of IPTV style direct delivery of targeted ads. Because they haven’t been able to get critical mass- and haven’t worked their customer relationships well enough- they may have missed this boat as well. A partnership with Nielsen to supply a TiVo to every metered home on a trial basis would have done more for better numbers- and sampling- than any campaign ever would.

TiVo hasn’t got a chance of surviving solo at this point. When they lost their partnership with DirectTV- and failed to work with the cable companies- they sealed their fate. TiVo can offer all kinds of new services- but, the reality is- they are a one trick pony- without a chance of winning the IPTV race- unless they partner with the calvary- be it Apple, Amazon, Nielsen, Cable companies, Telcos, or someone with the horses to get market penetration by taking the box as a loss leader- and the subscription fees as well - and focus on the community building relationship that TiVo has the sole rights to own in the DVR/IPTV competition.

Remember- it’s never about the technology, it’s about the content and the community- and that’s what TiVo should be placing all their effort behind.