This morning I got an

This morning I got an email from a Prince something from Zimbabwe, about an exciting business opportunity involving an African group. When he called me up a few hours later, I was surprised that he actually existed, and it ended up sounding like an interesting project.

You know you’re getting too many Nigerian spams when you start assuming any African-related business is a sham.

Being on a new cable

Being on a new cable system, I’ve spent the last few weeks enjoying Trading Spaces, a show on TLC. I’ve mentioned before how much I love home improvement shows, and having an interior design/improvement show on several times a week has been great. For the most part, the redesigns are superb, on a tight budget a team of designers give one impressive makeover after another. It’s interesting to watch designers work within the tight confines of small budget, and reminds me a lot of working within the confines of browsers when doing web design.

Also like web design, it’s easy to spot bad design. One of the designers, Doug, is the epitome of bad, arrogant designers, and I don’t mean design strictly in the visual sense. Design isn’t just a matter of taste and style, at the heart of design is problem solving. Given the constraints available, and the goals for a project, a good designer creates a solution that solves the problems using their creativity. Doug, however, spends show after show ignoring the goals and spirit of his clients, argues with guests whenever he doesn’t get his way, and has a knack for creating solutions that neither solve the original problems nor meet any of the goals. Imagine single purpose rooms designed in a space that was supposed to be multipurpose, imagine designs that go against the sole constraints given, imagine a designer that gets huffy and walks out of the room when people disagree or offer even the slightest bit of criticism.

He’s the designer I love to hate, and every episode he appears on reminds me that I should listen to clients, figure out and communicate goals to everyone involved, and work within constraints when hard limits are given.

I’ve spent the last few

I’ve spent the last few days housing and hanging out with Neale, and like the time I spent with him last summer in Sydney, we spent a fair amount of time constantly comparing Australian things, places, sayings, and mannerisms with the American counterparts. I found myself constantly doing the mental trick I did in Austraila, where in my head, I pre-scan every word I am about to say, looking for any mentions of numerical data that would have to be converted to metric. You’d think it doesn’t come up that often, but having someone scratch their head and wonder what “85 degrees” feels like, or how long “75 feet” is, or how much “180 pounds” weighs several times in a single conversation, and you quickly realize that we americans use numbers and our antiquated english system of metrics when describing things on a steady basis.

What was really strange, however, was realizing that Neale had also seen every episode of the Simpsons ever, and like most of my close friends, at any moment either one of us would drop a Simpsons quote and we’d know exactly what the other person was talking about.

TiVo’s Next Move

TiVo's 3.0 operating system began quietly rolling out earlier this week, and among the improvements is the ability to load schedule data via both cable and ethernet. While it appears this feature is simply a way to streamline the unit, and get rid of the requirement for a phone line (I had to install a new phone jack just to accomodate the TiVo when I installed it), I think there's a bigger reason why TiVo is looking for alternate data delivery: TiVo wants to become a distribution network, and even at 3am, sending data through the straw of phone line is no match for the wide pipe of broadband.
There are a lot of TiVos in the world now, and people are getting used to their different view of media content. Who could have predicted that people would flock to a device that only keeps programming for a brief period of time? VCR tapes can last for years, holding baby's first steps as well as last night's syndicated Simpsons rerun. TiVo simply embraced the transient nature of most television programming, and filled that gap. Although their easy software and no-brainer recording system did a lot to help their success, VCRs have had several similar automatic timer setting features, and additonal hardware (like VCR Plus barcode scanners) for years, but it never really caught on. I think the big brains at TiVo realized this and also realized there's no need to commit episodes of almost any TV show to a tape that lasts ten years when you'll delete it the next day, after watching it once.
Dust in the wind
This embracing of the temporal nature of things previously thought of as permanent or semi-permanent is key. Ten years ago, who could have predicted that people would listen to music through their computers with files that were regularly deleted, added to, and/or erased en masse? I buy CDs to simply rip and forget about in storage. I've lost tens of gigabytes of music to hard drive failures, and it's not the end of the world. The storage on my Rio is regularly formatted, changed out, then formatted again. In regards to media content, consumers are buring the candle at both ends, so to speak, by constantly churning through television shows, music, and movies. As a hyperconsumer of media with a digital hub at the center of my life, I want new, new, new stuff to watch and hear and I want it now, now now.
The same way I treat a single episode of the Simpsons, I can also treat movies. A single episode of the Simpsons requires a lot of work and money, but it's still going to be deleted five minutes after I've seen it, even if I know it is something a team of writers worked months creating a storyline for, something the studio paid hundreds of thousands to produce, and something that took a team of overseas animators six months to create. Movies require more time and more money to produce, but a good lot of them are fluff pieces I wouldn't want to have in permanent storage, but still provide entertainment value.
The new TiVo features
Imagine the thousands of TiVo units are all on some sort of broadband connection, getting data through a fat cable line or a DSL-powered ethernet port. Now imagine them becoming a real distribution network, sending me the latest hollywood films for a few bucks. The satellite TV (including DSS) and cable TV industries have all realized that pay-per-view is a goldmine for them, and it's only a matter of time before TiVo embraces this. Imagine paying two or three bucks directly to TiVo to see the movies you wouldn't want to fork $20 over for the DVD, the movies that have interesting enough previews, but aren't anything you'd go directly to the theater to see. These are the same movies you likely rent if you have a VCR and a Blockbuster Video nearby, and TiVo stands a good chance of replacing them, and saving you a trip to the store. In my DVD collection, I have the Godfather box set, I've got every Coen brothers release, and I have Criterion releases of every one of my favorites they offer, but I'd never own Charlies Angels, Zoolander, or Shallow Hal. I wouldn't bat an eye, however, to pay a buck or two to see those titles show up in my TiVo's Now Showing list.

…from my couch, I could pay a few bucks directly to TiVo for instant, ephemeral entertainment

I don't know about you, but I love the simplicity and ease-of-use of all things TiVo, and I could easily imagine how this new type of content delivery would seamlessly slip into my recorder. TiVo already has my credit card info, as I pay them ten bucks a month for the program data, and they already know what types of TV shows I like, so it's not too much of a stretch to think of how a new system would work. Imagine setting aside 10% of your TiVo's storage to keeping 2 or 3 suggested movies ready to play (this would be much less noticable in the new 60 hour units), then selecting them from your Now Playing list, operating some sort of keystroke (like three thumbs up, then select) to confirm you want to pay for it, then watching the movie instantly. No need to schlep down to the Blockbuster and fork three bucks over to the Viacom empire when from my couch, I could pay a few bucks directly to TiVo for instant, ephemeral entertainment. TiVo wouldn't have to maintain a 24/7 television channel, they'd simply be selling premium content direct to the customer on demand.
While their competitors like SonicBlue enable a napster-like app on every RePlay hard drive and fight the numerous court battles to let their customers "steal" content, TiVo could instead be making a profit on every copy of a movie watched by their users by following a proven profit model that has been working for over ten years. The sad truth of the P2P revolution is that people want to pay creators for their content, but it's never been easy or possible. TiVo is the king of ease-of-use, and could make both things possible in their media distribution network.
The bottom line
Providing content the customer wants, in a quick and easy fashion is TiVo's forte, and it'd be nice to see TiVo make a profit and stick around. The increasingly hermit-ized, couch potato nation loves TiVo and loves movies, and would be a goldmine for TiVo if they simply put the two together. And like every episode of handcrafted Simpsons brilliance, I'd send those movies whose writers worked for months, whose budgets ran well into the millions, and whose actors worked on for six months, straight to /dev/null/ and the digital ether five minutes after finishing them.