This chart of TiVo's slipping subscriber numbers may be surprising, seeing as TiVo is the television recording device (and it's so good), but it's something we've seen coming for a while. We love you TiVo, but you're fast becoming obsolete.
The typical TiVo user is a person who just wants their TV recordings to work, regardless of the monthly fee. They may or may not be tech savvy, but chances are TiVo was their first DVR—since we've found, anecdotally, people gravitate back to the first DVR interface they use. So why is their marketshare down to 2004 levels? The answer is simple: cheap DVRs from providers are eating TiVo from the low end, and everyone else can now use Windows 7 and a tuner to act as a DVR just fine.
Cheap DVRs from Comcast, or Time Warner or your satellite provider have gotten good—or rather, less shitty—enough to make them actually viable options for home recording. Even I couldn't turn down only paying an extra $US5 per month to have a recorder that works well enough to watch stuff with, even if you don't have show recommendations, and fast forwarding barely functions well enough to stop where you want. But it's $US5. $US5. Five. Dollars. And that's without having to pay upfront for the box. You can rent three of these for the price of one TiVo subscription.
As for the big reason why you don't need a TiVo anymore, in the future, you can thank Microsoft and Windows 7. Just take a look at that Windows 7 PC you have. Yeah, the one in your office. That can be your DVR. CableLabs finally took off their ridiculous OEM restriction on who can install CableCARD tuners—the device that actually takes a digital cable signal and turns it into something your computer can understand and record—so you can go and get one of these yourself for about $US200. So for $US200, with no future fees except for your normal cable bill, you can have yourself a home DVR that's arguably as good as TiVo. And, much easier to expand and augment, both storage and functionality-wise, than a set top box.
And if you don't want a computer in your living room (you need that thing in your office anyway), all you have to do is get an Xbox 360 and extend it. Multiple Xboxes mean streaming to multiple rooms, something that's not even possible on a TiVo.
Of course there's going to be a core group of TiVo users who really enjoy TiVo functionality, really appreciate their interface and can't imagine using something else. But is that enough to sustain a business when so many other options are cheaper and just as good? The numbers say no.
AU: Obviously this is a very US centric view of the situation - in Australia, despite the fact that TiVo is somewhat hobbled thanks to its Freeview compatability, the fact is that PayTV is very different over here, as are the number of products available and the pricing. Plus, the new Caspa service coming to TiVo next week looks like it'll push the Aussie version of the TiVo out in front of its competitors locally...