June 02, 2008

TiVo Is a Zero On the Social Web. It's Time They Fast Forward.

Despite continued issues around the company's business model, TiVo fans are among the most loyal. As with Apple, I, and many others like me, believe that TiVo offers a superior user experience that has changed my life for the good. I can't imagine being forced to watch TV without a TiVo, finding myself tied down to the scheduling whims of network executives, and seeing commercial after commercial on products I'll never buy. But while some offline products have found a voice on the Web, TiVo is conspicuously absent.

With the right amount of focus, TiVo could leverage their fan base and deliver a TV-centric social network and social networking features, where you could compare season passes, engage with fellow TV watchers, display when you had added a show to your season pass, or one-time recording, and even show if you hadn't yet watched an episode, warning your friends not to spill the beans on a season finale, if you hadn't caught up.

Today, TiVo's Web site lets you manage your TiVo(s) online, letting you remotely add shows, should the need hit you. TiVo Central online also shows aggregate statistics, including Most-Recorded Shows, and WishList rankings for Directors and Actors. It's nice, but it's not nearly enough.

What I would like is:

1. To create a TiVo-centric social network that lets me synchronize my profile with my TiVo units and find similar users.

My profile would, by default, import all season passes and wishlists on my claimed TiVo units, but allow me to "hide" specific items from public view. (Not necessarily for content, mind you, but because my wife doesn't 100% share my interests)

Using technology TiVo already has, I would gain recommendations for new TV shows and actors, based on my selections. Not only would I be able to see previews of the TV shows from within the social network, but I would also be able to find a compatibility rating between my preferences and other TiVo social network users.

Given TiVo's popularity, I would be able to search the social network not just for TV show compatibility, but also by distance from me, or other characteristics, as broad or as narrow as the other profiles would be willing to share. Does this sound a little too much like a dating service? I'm sure there's a little less harm in getting together with a person of the opposite gender to catch a So You Think You Can Dance marathon than most things, so sure, have at it. But more usefully, the social network would also have:

Central bulletin boards for each network television show and the most popular cable channels, as well as, by default, the top 100 most popular actors or directors, with social network users having the option to create new topics.

During the "live" showings of each show, the bulletin boards would have a "live" chat room features as well, so if you were daring enough to watch the show live, you could communicate with other viewers in real time, from anywhere.

2. To create customizable Tivo-centric RSS feeds to populate other social media sites.

Today, I have the ability to show you when I add items to my Amazon.com Wish List. I even have the option to show you when I purchase items from Apple's iTunes Music Store (See: Webomatica). But I can't use RSS to tell you when I add a new show to my Season Pass, or find a new actor or director interesting. Today, that data is siloed.

How My Tivo RSS Feed Would Add to My Lifestream

For many people, what you watch on television is just as definitive for who you are as the Web sites you visit, the sports teams you root for, and the restaurants you like. If I like CSI and Law and Order: SVU, as do you, but I also happen to watch Bones, but you hadn't heard of it, maybe thanks to my watching it, you would check it out.

I want to add TiVo updates I make on the unit or via the Web available as an option to my FriendFeed, MyBlogLog, on Plaxo Pulse or other services. I want the ability to make the details as narrow or as broad as possible, showing either that I've added a show, or, for some, that I've watched a show.

3. To have the option to access and export all my statistics.

Some people may be up in arms about TiVo aggregating user data, but not me. I want to know if I'm watching more TV this year than I did last year. I want to know the percentage of shows I watch live or those I watch on the DVR. I want to know if I wait longer to watch some shows than others, or if I watch more TiVo recordings in aggregate on Thursday than I did on Tuesday. I want to see, in total, how much time I've saved by fast-forwarding through commercials. (I first wrote about this last February: Dear Tivo, Please Track and Report My Data)

What if you could show how many hours you spend per year watching shows that start with "Law and Order"? What if you could then use all these statistics to compare with friends within your social network (See: #1)? TiVo could, with the viewers' permission, make a "couch potato" leaderboard for those who watched the most TV, the most from a single network, the most comedies or the most episodes of a specific show. I could find out if I'm the most reliable viewer of ER in Sunnyvale, California, or within 50 miles from my house.

I should be able to export my statistics in aggregate, to my blog, or any site.

4. To have widgets to display on my blog.

Like those from Last.fm, I want to have a widget that shows the top shows I watched in the last 7 or 30 days. I want to have a widget that shows my status, including what I might be currently watching, or if my TiVo is idle, like widgets for AOL instant messenger do.

To date, TiVo has not leveraged the power of their brand or their community on the Web. While there are sites out there dedicated to TiVo, like TiVoCommunity.com, they are unofficial, and they don't use the immense amount of data that TiVo has at its remote control to connect viewers and fans. I am more than ready to connect my online activity with my TiVo activity, and it is astounding to me that TiVo hasn't made an attempt to take on the new world of the Web the way they once aggressively took on the old world of stuffy network TV executives.

With social networks being so easy to create, and with RSS and XML being extremely customizable, the talent behind the world's best DVR should be able to unpause and get this started.