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5/22/2006
10:54 AM
Paul McDougall
Paul McDougall
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TiVo's Magazine Team-Up Shows Old-Media Arrogance: They're Just Too Fuller Themselves

TiVo's announcement Monday that it's teaming up with old-line magazines like Vanity Fair, Sports Illustrated, and several other major print brands to create a so-called Guru Guide service for viewers shows that the company and its heavily recycled CEO, Tom Rogers, fundamentally don't get what's driving the new, networked, Internet 2.0 economy. So if I were a TiVo shareholder, which I'm not, here's why I'd be dumping that stock faster than Paris Hilton ditches Greek millionaires

TiVo's announcement Monday that it's teaming up with old-line magazines like Vanity Fair, Sports Illustrated, and several other major print brands to create a so-called Guru Guide service for viewers shows that the company and its heavily recycled CEO, Tom Rogers, fundamentally don't get what's driving the new, networked, Internet 2.0 economy. So if I were a TiVo shareholder, which I'm not, here's why I'd be dumping that stock faster than Paris Hilton ditches Greek millionaires.The rise of tech and media companies where user-driven content is king--think Wikipedia, TripAdvisor, Craigslist, or Slashfood--shows that the last thing anyone wants these days is some "guru" getting in the way of their information, entertainment, or shopping fix. What consumers demand now is simply a means to connect to other consumers so that they can find out what people just like themselves think is good or crap. Successful tech and media players need to be as much about facilitating that connection as they are about dishing their own fodder.

Nothing says more about TiVo's sheer "out-of-it-ness" on that front than its decision to use Bonnie Fuller as its popular culture "guru." Fuller lives in an ultrarich suburban enclave north of Manhattan and is paid more than $1 million a year to cynically churn out bread-and-circuses rags like Star and National Enquirer on behalf of American Media. Maybe a Henry Rollins-type might have some cred as a guide to what's hip, but Bonnie Fuller? That's not hip, just tragic.

The genesis of TiVo's folly can be traced back to CEO Rogers and, more specifically, the decade or so he spent as a senior executive at NBC. Rogers is just too much of a big-media guy to understand the plotline of Internet Part II: Revenge of the User. His one big new-media foray to date was one big bust. As CEO of Primedia, he overpaid for About.com--acquiring the third-tier portal and all its subject experts (a.k.a. gurus lite) for $690 million in 2000.

Primedia finally ditched Rogers in '03 and last year sold About.com to the New York Times Co. for $410 million. You can do the math that TiVo's board apparently couldn't when it hired Rogers last year. Rogers' problem is that he still thinks it's the logo, and not the content, that matters most. That's why TiVo's new partners are all tired behemoths like Sports Illustrated and other titles that reigned when brands ruled the earth.

TiVo has great software, and Rogers should be spending more of his time trying to get it inside cable operators' set-top boxes. He's got one such deal with Comcast, but needs many more as his subscription growth slides. TiVo should also be developing features that allow users to communicate with each other and share top picks amongst themselves. I'm more interested in what some striver in Bed-Stuy thinks is cool than I am in Fuller's view from Hastings On Hudson.

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