Tuesday, June 12, 2012


When I started working, we used to talk about our bed-to-desk time, how long it took to get up, shower dress, and get to the office. I didn’t eat breakfast in those days, and didn’t seem to get hungry until noontime. I used to go to bed on what I now consider the wrong side of midnight, and, when I lived on Capitol Hill, a short metro ride from my firm at Metro Center, I could be out of bed and into the office in well under an hour.

But, and this will sound ridiculous, something happened when I had kids. Suddenly there was an all consuming set of things to do in the morning—getting dressed, having breakfast (now the most important meal of the day for some reasson) and getting to day care. Plus, these ungrateful bundles seemed to demand constant attention—role playing games, bedtime stories, etc. I found fatherhood to be a real drag on my media time.

The first counter to this new paradigm was Tivo, which combined the utility of time shifting with the VCR and a very friendly user interface. I could now put the OG to bed (she was 3 in 2002, when we got our still functioning Series 2 unit after reading a story, or watching the Wiggles, knowing that I could start the Seven o’clock Wizards game at Eight and finish up in real time without watching any commercials—a decidedly more efficient way of consumption. In fact, I think Tivo missed a real opportunity, by marketing to young people rather than harried parents. You may recall that the main Tivo commercial at the time was a young man watching a football game, who, just as the kicker for his beloved team is lining up a game winning field goal, pauses the broadcast in order to run over to the church to importune for divine assistance. In reality, sports fans have been the most inveterate opponents of this scenario, and I have read countless diatribes about how fans can’t bear to watch things knowing that the results are already known by their peers. I, on the other hand, have no problem with it, and, even when I turned on the tv in medias res (and Tivo did not do a good job of preventing this) and got a glimpse of the score, I actually enjoyed walking the cat backwards to ascertain how it actually came to be. So the core demographic for the service should have been, it seems to me, people with less control over their schedule, rather than those who thought it was cool to pause live television. I don’t have the data to back up this hypothesis, of course, so perhaps I’m missing something.

But Tivo did more than allow me to witness every grisly minute of Michael Jordan’s categoric failure with the Wizards. Counter-intuitively, it also reduced my tv watching time. One of my first actions when we installed the box was to set up season passes to the White Shadow and the A-Team, the former, a show that I hadn’t seen in years, and the latter, one that I was always delighted to stumble on when flipping channels. Now I could call these, and other gems, up whenever I wanted. But I soon found two things: that the White Shadow wasn’t as good as I remembered, and that the A-Team was not as enjoyable without the serendipitous spontaneity of happening upon it when I was looking for something to watch. Shorn of that experience, I simply stopped watching bad television, which had been my late night habit for at least a decade. I can’t say that Tivo was the only reason for that (surely advancing wisdom and maturity were contributing factors, right?) but I do think it played a significant role.

Moreover, and again, this seems like a perfectly obvious marketing opportunity that was largely ignored, Tivo allowed us to always maintain a full complement of the Gs’ favourite shows. This meant that we were never at a loss for finding something for them to watch, and did not have to spend money on dvds. In fact, until Egypt, the girls did not really understand the concept of “Let’s see what’s on.” And, until the allure of Dancing With the Stars, were unfamiliar with the idea of event television, where it is important to be on the sofa at a specific time.

We have two units today, as well as the DVR from Time Warner, which is still far more difficult to use than our ten-year old unit. Because of their age, the Tivo units cannot record any channels above 75, and they don’t record in high definition, which limits their suitability for regular season NBA games. I watch Pardon the Interruption, usually after dinner, after the dishwasher has been loaded, the BG has gone outside to play with the neighbours, and the OG has withdrawn into her chambers. I also watch America’s Test Kitchen now and again, and Worldwide and I will watch the Daily Show during lunch sometimes, although I have lately grown a little tired of the profanity and the Fox-bashing. Not that I like Fox news, I just don’t see it as a practical use of my time to think about it. Worldwide likes Mad Men, Downton Abbey, the Good Wife and a couple of other shows, and the Gs, who have unfettered access to a cornucopia of programming, watch almost nothing.

Shortly before 9 most nights, the Gs will come down  in search of a beverage and wondering if there’s a basketball game on. There usually is, but that’s another story.


  1. Back in 2003, Tivo was one of the most quality-of-life enhancing innovations I had ever encountered. I remain very loyal to that brand, and don't mind having "only" 75, regular-def channels.

  2. We got our Tivo shortly after seeing yours. I got it as a birthday present for Joy.... I think its still her favorite present ever.