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Tuesday, April 19, 2005


Tivo backlash?

I recently gave in to my love of Friends and added it to my Tivo season pass manager. Last night I was ready to indulge, and tuned in to one of 2 episodes it had recorded, and it turned out it was the classic in which Monica and Rachel lose their apartment to Chandler and Joey in a bet. But as I sat there soaking it in, I realized, it's not as much fun when I can call it up whenever I want. Part of the enjoyment is happening to catch it while channel surfing, happening to turn on the TV at 7:10 or 11:15 when there's just enough of an episode left to give me my fix. Being able to watch it "whenever" makes me want to watch it less. (This adds to my long, complicated love/hate relationship with the show: "it's an unrealistic superficial show about pretty 20-somethings"..."yeah, but it's funny"..."but they turned it into a soap opera"..."but the reruns are fun to watch"..."but they're not as much fun when I Tivo them.")

I am hardly the first to observe that we want what we can't have, but I find it interesting to observe this again in our current media environment, in which content companies are increasingly focused on giving consumers "what they want, when they want it." At Sundance I heard Ted Sarandos of Netflix say that their biggest challenge is that people don't know what they want - so you can't just figure it out and give it to them. Netflix is investing in complex algorithms to fuel its recommendation engine. Someone else on that Sundance panel, Richard Titus of Schematic, a technology design company, observed that increasingly, user interface is going to be what gives content companies a competitive edge...giving people the best tools to sort their content choices. With all these companies racing to give users the best choices - what kind of backlash are we in for? With content so readily available, will people begin to withdraw from media, treating it like we Washingtonians treat the Smithsonian or the memorials? (Glad they exist, but we never use them.) Without the pursuit, without hurdles to access, will the fun wear off?

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