I have a new roommate. Its name is TiVo. TiVo is a TV receiver that, among other things, allows you to look at live TV, record up to 30 hours of your favorite programs without tapes, skip commercials, pause a live program without missing a beat and see instant replays.
And once TiVo learns your viewing preferences it will start to record programs for you.
Talk about space-age stuff.
I'm not much of a TV fan. I spend, on average, only 60 to 90 minutes with the tube each day - but I'm quite impressed with TiVo. That's because after being with me for two months, the machine actually seems to know a lot about my personality.
During the week of Feb. 1, for example, it recorded several high-intensity exercise programs - exercise is my favorite hobby - and the types of roguish movies that I like, such as Death Wish III with Charles Bronson; Rope, an Alfred Hitchcock mystery; and a thriller called Red Rock West with bad boys Nicholas Cage and Dennis Hopper. I didn't ask TiVo to record those programs; it did it all by itself. So TiVo has introduced me to channels and programs that I did not know existed.
Take one of the exercise programs as an example: 'Bodies in Motion,' filmed in Hawaii. I lost track of that program years ago, but TiVo found it for me. It airs early in the morning on the Fox Sports Network.
A valuable tool
Now I'm beginning to understand why TiVo and similar types of new technology are causing quite a stir among auto marketers and the broadcast media that rely quite a bit on those hefty automotive budgets. TiVo doesn't have a contract yet with any of the automakers, but the industry is becoming more and more interested.
TiVo swears it won't divulge individual names, but it can inform carmakers about viewing habits. So instead of GM running a minivan commercial for a viewer, like myself, who appears not to be interested in family-type programs, it can air commercials they think I will like - and only on the channels TiVo tells them I look at.
Another good feature: The remote allows a viewer to tell TiVo if it likes or dislikes certain programming. In the near future, viewers also may be able to say whether or not they like certain commercials.
So no longer will advertisers have to guess whether viewers either see or like their ads. It will all be documented with services such as TiVo. I even heard a discussion at one marketing conference indicating some advertisers are thinking of paying people to have such services if they agree to look at their ads. That's how eager advertisers are to document consumer media habits.
That could either spell good news or bad news for the networks. They generate billions of dollars from automakers based merely on estimates of the number of viewers of certain programs - but hardly any real evidence of the numbers of people who actually look at the commercials.
It takes about two hours for the initial TiVo setup. You must inform TiVo of all the channels you receive, and then it will download the settings for each station into its computer.
Either live TV or TiVo
The remote allows you to look at either live TV or TiVo. While in the TiVo mode, you can watch the programs TiVo has recorded for you or that you requested the system to record. Got a program you look at regularly? Ask TiVo for a season pass, and the system will automatically record the program whenever it airs.
Recorded programs generally remain in the system for about 48 hours unless you instruct TiVo to keep them longer. You can also instruct TiVo to record any programs on your VCR.
With the pause button, you never miss a minute of live TV. The instant replay feature allows you to capture those hot scenes over and over again.
There are some things I don't like. You can't just zap out commercials; you must fast forward through them, although you can do it much quicker than with most VCRs. And you can't look at live TV and record a program simultaneously unless you have additional equipment.
But I like TiVo. It has nearly eliminated the need for me to scan through a TV guide, and I can look at a two-hour movie in about an hour and 40 minutes. That's because - and this is sad news for advertisers - I zap almost every commercial.
Kathy Jackson can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]