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TiVo SDK and the Legend Behind the Long Tail

No disrespect to Marty Yudkovitz, who’s probably a capable, stand-up guy, but the real news at TiVo this week is Tahiti, their just released software developers kit which opens their platform (or gateway to the living room) to third party developers. And they’re kicking it off with a contest to be judged by a panel that includes Wired editor Chris Anderson and author of the “The Long Tail” which ran in Wired Mag’s Oct. 2004 issue. Contrary to the errant posts on the blogosphere, Anderson’s story — which has become something of a legend — was largely based on a concept shared with him over a cup of coffee by my client Ecast CEO Robbie Vann-Adibe.

Robbie is the first person quoted in the article, who inspired the Long Tail when he realized through his broadband entertainment network business that the sale of digital performances of catalog songs was a more lucrative opportunity then that of the top 40.

Before the Long Tail appeared, Robbie was asking record label executives what percentage of albums in Ecast’s 150,000 song catalog the thought got played monthly. Most answered 20%. The correct answer is 98.7% (corrected 5/3/05. Thanks Chris).

Chris Marlowe of the Hollywood Reporter included some of these figures in a story she wrote in Dec. 2003 that you can read as PDF be clicking here. I worked with Marlowe on her story and spent months working on setting up the meeting between Anderson and Vann Adibe. It was Anderson, obviously, who put the stats in context and coined the phrase.

But back to the TiVo press release…I think the big opportunity in the DVR business is search capabilities. Sure, expanded media applications like music and video services, and even video games might be nice, but the company that controls search functions, will ultimately have the strongest hand, and right now the search parameters on TiVo are dismal at best. You can’t search recent DVD releases (which could drive pay-per-view sales, and TiVo could take a cut), you can’t search only the channels you receive, you have to manually extend the record stop time of sporting events (in case they go into overtime), and if you choose a program at a time when you’ve got TiVo set to record something else, you have to manually find an alternate time to record one of your choices.

If you believe, as I do, that healthy competition promotes technological growth, and if EPIC scared you as much as it did me, then it would in everyone’s best interest for TiVo to emerge as the TV programming search leader, or as a viable alternative to Google, which recently announced in a press release that they launched a new service that lets you search closed captioning on television which wrote a blog post about last week.

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