October 04, 2009

Wanted: A Magical TiVo With Sub-Program Alerts

If you own a TiVo, you can't fathom using a television without one. The ability to have your DVR record multiple channels at once so you never miss a program, pause live programming, skip commercials, and have it constantly searching for new shows to recommend or show you when your favorite actors or directors are starring in a program, is without equal. But as Web search queries and alert capabilities become ever stronger, I've been thinking of the potential for a future TiVo product to pinpoint programming down to levels much more granular than an individual episode.

Let's start with the required elements that are already in place.
  1. We already know that TiVo can pop up an alert for you when you are watching a channel if something else you have told it to record is going to possibly preempt your programming.
  2. We know that there are many many other TiVo users who are watching TV, so there is a high probability that somebody out there on the service is watching one of the stations at any given time, and if not, TiVo has the capability to tap into that channel's feed.
  3. We know that automated close captioning and transcription tools are gaining incredible improvements over time, practically matching natural speech.
  4. We know services like TV Eyes are constantly searching for content within TV shows.
On the Web, I have the ability to get alerted in near real-time if the brand I am watching (or my personal name) is mentioned online, be it in a blog comment (via BackType), in a blog post itself (via Blog Search), or on a social network like Twitter (via TweetBeep) or FriendFeed. Weather programs can alert me if there is an advisory in my area, or if a temperature reaches a certain level. Stock trading sites, like eTrade, can send me an alert if a watched stock reaches a pricepoint, and if lucky, I can even have it trade on my behalf if I have sufficient funds and an order in place. Each of these is an example of what I think could be the next generation of programming discovery and recording for TiVo or other DVR services - especially if users could utilize something like natural language to specify what they are looking for. Think about the possibilities that could be obtained with an intelligent next-gen recorder.
  1. Post a visible alert when the channel I was previously watching live returns from commercial.

    This way, if a program I was watching cut to commercial, and I switched to another channel, I would know to return back to my original show.

  2. Post a visible alert for specified occasions in a sporting event.

    I could program my TiVo to alert me when my favorite baseball team returns to bat, or if my favorite football team had recovered possession of the ball. Similarly, I could set an alert to highlight me when a specific batter came to the plate, or if the game's score differential had decreased to a specified amount. (Example Alerts: The 49ers are within 7 of the Bills, trailing 21-14 or Albert Pujols is batting.)

  3. Post an alert when a specific stock is being mentioned on a business channel.

    If I hold Google or Apple stock in my portfolio, I could set an alert with TiVo that would pop up if Jim Cramer mentioned the companies on CNBC.

  4. The TiVo could record subsegments of a show, not the entire program.

    What if I could tell the TiVo to record Conan O'Brien's monologue and skits, but to skip over the interviews? That's mostly what I do anyway, by hand. Similarly, can we record Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, but never have to see the guests?

  5. The TiVo could learn my "preferred" news network and watch for coverage of topics.

    If I told TiVo I preferred MSNBC, CNN or Fox News, and asked the unit to watch for mentions of individuals, like the Clintons, or topics, like the War in Afghanistan, TiVo would watch the live broadcasts for me, and pick up the relevant clips for recording.

  6. TiVo could integrate with network news' or ESPN's Special Report interruptions.

    While the concept of "Breaking News" has been watered down a great deal with the advent and growth of 24 hour cable news, the networks still can get your attention through Special Reports that interrupt regular viewing. But if I am on a cable channel watching something else, or am watching a recorded show on TiVo, I would want an alert that NBC had broken away to cover a critical live event.
Over the years, TiVo has become much more than just a recording vault for my favorite shows. The service now lets you search by show's descriptions to say, record every show with the phrase "Silicon Valley" in it, or every movie starring Johnny Depp. But I want more. The Web has spoiled me in terms of delivering real-time alerts and getting my attention right away. In contrast, TiVo's old-school episode by episode, show by show, hour by hour chunkitude almost seems wheezy. Even if we can't get to all my requests right away, I can't help but wonder how soon it will be before we can start getting alerts and recordings that are in smaller selections than the rules we have today.

If you could tell your TiVo to crawl shows you watch, or even those you don't, how would you customize this magical TiVo of the future?