A Damn Shame – PlayTeeVee Shutting Down

The most creative active developer for TiVo’s Home Media Engine (HME), PlayTeeVee, looks like they’ll be shutting down their service soon, according to a post in their blog. That’s a damn shame, and somewhat upsetting.

PlayTeeVee has faced an uphill struggle since they launched, like all HME developers, because TiVo has utterly neglected 3rd party HME development for years. They don’t provide any 3rd party developer support, the last official release of the public HME SDK came on October 31, 2005! There has been one release since then, an experimental build released on October 2, 2007. On top of that, TiVo provides no way for HME developers to promote their products to the user base. Unlike TiVoCast, or even TiVo Web Video, TiVo doesn’t even provide a simple directory service for developers to list their wares. So the only way for developers like PlayTeeVee to reach users is via forums, like TiVoCommunity, and blogs like this one. And, to be realistic, the total readership of all such forums and blogs combined is but a drop in the bucket compared to the TiVo installed base.

That’s what has done PlayTeeVee in. They’d hope to build enough of a user base to sustain the site through ad sales. But reaching users has been harder then they expected, even knowing the problems, and they just haven’t been able to so it. Their server contract is coming up for renewal in a couple of weeks, and given the current number of users they can’t justify continuing to pour money into PlayTeeVee without any sustainable business prospects.

I’ve said repeatedly that TiVo could use HME as a major differentiator. No one else has anything like it. And when HME first launched their were many fantastic applications developed for it, and a lot of developer excitement. Applications like Galleon and AudioFaucet added great new capabilities to TiVo. (TiVoBlog has a list of some of the HME apps still available.) But then TiVo stopped supporting the public SDK and never delivered promised feature updates, and after the SDK stagnated, and TiVo failed to offer any way for developers to promote their wares, developer interest waned.

And it isn’t that TiVo abandoned HME, they just abandoned 3rd party developers. HME is still thriving within TiVo, an internal version of the SDK, with many more features than the public version, is used to implement many of the features added to TiVo in recent years. Music, Photos, Products & More applications like Rhapsody, Photos & Slideshows, Home Movies by One True Media, Yahoo! Traffic & Weather, Music Videos from Music Choice, Product Watch, Browse and Buy Movie Tickers, Live365, SameGame, Wordsmith, Skull & Bones, and more – all implemented using the internal HME SDK. Under Find Programs & Downloads the Universal Swivel Search, Download TV, Movies & Web Video, and KidZone Recommendations & Guru Guides are also implemented using HME. And, biggest of all, the OCAP software for Comcast and Cox cable DVRs is written using an SDK derived from the internal HME SDK.

But, for some reason, TiVo seems set on a ‘walled garden’ approach. They pulled back from the public SDK and support for 3rd party developers which featured in their HME effort early on. And instead they’ve focused on internal development for business partners and TiVo’s own features. I really don’t think it would take that much in the way of resources for TiVo to release the new HME features from the internal SDK as updates for the public SDK, and to provide a simple index where HME developers could list their wares to make it easy for TiVo users to find them. They don’t even have to offer developer support, the community has proven quite capable of supporting itself despite TiVo’s neglect for the past few years.

Tom Rogers claims that TiVo is a DVR – no longer a Digital Video Recorder, but a Digital Video Retriever. I think they should go farther. TiVo called the S3 a DMR – a Digital Media Recorder, more than just video. I say call it a Digital Media Retriever and really embrace the community. If TiVo wants to truly be a portal to all forms of content, and really differentiate themselves from the growing competitive market, they need to establish a TiVo ecosystem. make TiVo the center of a thriving developer community which can truly set them apart. A developer community can produce features and options many times greater than any one company could ever produce in house, with a smaller resource investment.

Look at Palm and Palm OS. For the past four or five years you’d almost think Palm was trying to kill themselves. It has reminded me of The Producers, they keep trying to bomb but just can’t seem to completely fail for some reason. Despite all of Palms fumbling with their failed Palm OS 6 Cobalt release, and then the repeatedly delayed Linux-based Palm OS II (aka Nova), and the Foleo fiasco, they still have a strong user base. The Palm Centro, which is running basically the same Palm OS 5.4 Garnet released over four years ago with only a few changes, is selling very well. The key to the continued success, despite the stagnation of the OS development, is the huge number of 3rd party applications available from the Palm OS developer community. The ‘Palm ecosystem’ is still fairly strong, despite the lackluster performance by Palm themselves. TiVo could’ve had the same kind of developer support, and possibly still could, if only they’d made a minimal effort to nurture the developer community. Look at the iPhone TiVo remote, that’s an example of something developers pulled of without any support from TiVo. Imagine if TiVo offered even minimal support for developers with an updated HME SDK, some basic APIs for TiVo functionality, and a basic index for developers to use to reach the user base.

Anyway, I could really go on about this in depth, and I may well put together a post on what steps I think TiVo could take to get the ball rolling. But right now a good first step would be for TiVo to step in and support PlayTeeVee. Either sponsor them to keep the site up, buy them out and bring the games ‘in house’ as a standard offering on TiVo, or find some other business arrangement – maybe just putting the games on every TiVo, as with TiVo’s own ‘SameGame’, etc, would be enough to allow PlayTeeVee to be self-supporting. It would be a damn shame for TiVo to allow the most active and most creative HME offerings to wither and die when they could be a real showcase for users if given the chance, IMHO. I really hope TiVo steps in to keep PlayTeeVee alive and gives them the exposure they deserve for all of their creativity and hard work.

About MegaZone

MegaZone is the Editor of Gizmo Lovers and the chief contributor. He's been online since 1989 and active in several generations of 'social media' - mailing lists, USENet groups, web forums, and since 2003, blogging.    MegaZone has a presence on several social platforms: Google+ / Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn / LiveJournal / Web.    You can also follow Gizmo Lovers on other sites: Blog / Google+ / Facebook / Twitter.
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  • lutton

    It’s a tough nut to crack…

    TiVo has partnered with companies that really don’t want to allow third party access to their systems: DirecTV, which went through a period of almost unbridled pirate hacking of their conditional access system – people breaking down the binary code on the chip in the access card – and cable companies, which seem to barely want to share basic information with their own consumers, let alone allow some hax0rs internal access to their systems.

    Personally I think we’re lucky that TiVo doesn’t shut down that access altogether; look at how long DirecTV subs have been kept – still – waiting for media sharing features.

    I suspect it’ll be a while before TiVo is in a position to actively assist third party developers due to fear, loathing and misunderstanding from the companies with whom TiVo has to make nice.

  • http://www.gizmolovers.com/ MegaZone

    But none of that is relevant. TiVo can add capabilities to their standalone units without impacting the DirecTV. They do so already – the DirecTiVos never had all of the networking features TiVo added to their standalone boxes. The Comcast software has a different set again. The concerns of their partners have no relevance to the standalone products at all, because the software used by the partners is different anyway and can include, or not include, any given feature, and it has always been that way.

    TiVo turns away 3rd party developers at their own risk. More and more the other vendors are opening up their systems a little at a time. Cable companies are starting to talk up the features of tru2way and the ability to run 3rd party applications on their cable STBs. It is unlikely that they’ll throw the doors wide open to any developers, but the door is open a crack now and if it goes well it will inevitably lead to more support for applications.

    TiVo should get out in front and built an ecosystem while the market is still open and before anyone else does it. Well, before anyone else big – since there are already other STBs with open application platforms for 3rd party extentions.