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CICIORA’S CORNER: Bloop, bloop, bloop

Tue, 03/31/2009 - 8:25pm
Walter S. Ciciora, Ph.D., Recognized Industry Expert on Cable and Consumer Electronics Issues

Without the TiVo, the watching of TV is mind-numbing.

It is a fact of life that a person doesn’t appreciate the marvels of technology until he is deprived of them. The car is taken for granted until it won’t start. The hot water heater is never given a thought until it leaks all over the basement floor. The refrigerator is ignored until it no longer refrigerates. You stay at a friend’s home for a visit and they don’t have cable Walter S. Cicioratelevision; that’s when you appreciate and miss it most.

So it is with our TiVo. We are in a hotel in Aiken, S.C., for our now annual four- to six-week winter visit to this equestrian wonderland. My wife rides and tends to her horses while I usually stay in the hotel, read, do a little consulting, go for pleasant and warm walks, and enjoy the high-speed Internet, which I need almost more than oxygen. We do not have our TiVo with us, and so we miss the sound of the “bloop, bloop, bloop” it makes when we switch it into high-speed fast-forward mode at home.

As a backup, I brought along a VCR. This is a real step back into ancient history. The experience has brought a number of thoughts to mind, which I will share with you.

It is almost shocking how limiting television can be without a TiVo (or other personal video recorder). I have a number of good friends who claim they don’t watch much television – some don’t subscribe to either cable or satellite. I think I now know why.

Without the TiVo, the watching of TV is mind-numbing. I find that I just roll over and go to sleep, even when shows I used to regularly watch are on. I also don’t have that same feeling of loss if I miss a program. It’s no longer a big deal! I could learn to live without television!

The biggest advantage of our TiVo at home is that we can watch our favorite shows on our own time. We don’t have to be tied to the TV schedule. We are fairly active, and so it is a real convenience to watch television when it suits our timing. An important help here is the “season ticket” feature, which captures each episode without having to individually program it in each time. TiVo can be set to capture only new episodes, skipping repeats.

We have found that the best programs are rather complex. Here, the TiVo is most helpful in allowing replays of critical sections of the program, even while watching the program for the first time. I wonder how viewers without TiVo can possibly get the most out of some of these involved plots.

Here in Aiken, we have the VCR I brought. The first problem was that I brought the wrong remote control. I haven’t used a VCR in quite a while and just grabbed a remote of the same brand from the pile. So I went to the local hardware store and bought a “universal” remote that required putting in the right codes. There were pages of codes to choose from, and the Zenith-brand VCR section had more than a dozen, as did the hotel’s Zenith TV. Happily, in both cases, the first code did the job. As an additional benefit, the universal remote yielded functions that the hotel remote hid. This included a “sleep timer,” so the television could automatically turn off after a set period rather than go all night.

If I stay awake, I count the commercials in the breaks. I counted as many as 15, including the channel’s “interstitials,” which promote other programs on the channel. It’s enough to make you forget what you were watching!

At home, we don’t skip over advertisements; we fast-forward through them. So we hear the TiVo go “bloop, bloop, bloop.” If the advertisement is entertaining, funny or interesting, we go back to it and watch it. If the advertisement is irrelevant, we skip over it. TiVo allows me to more efficiently ignore the advertisements that have no value to me.

This caused me to wonder when the last time was that a television advertisement motivated me to buy something I wasn’t going to buy anyway. I can’t think of any. So I wondered when the last time was that I bought a different brand of something I would have bought anyway. Again, I can’t think of any. The last time we actively used television advertisements to make a purchase decision was when my wife needed a new vehicle to use with her horse trailer. At that time, we were TiVo addicts. But when truck advertisements were on television, we watched and re-watched them. They were useful and welcome. After the purchase (in 2001), truck advertisements again became just another annoyance.

I wonder if we aren’t discouraging our best customers and driving them to their personal computers with all of these mind-numbing advertisements. I wonder if cutting the number in half and charging the advertiser double would provide the advertiser with more value.

wciciora@ieee.org

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