I shared my recent post about TiVo’s domain name troubles in Spain on TiVo’s Facebook Wall and that prompted TiVo’s former Senior Director of Product Marketing, Ted Malone, to share a fun story from TiVo’s past. Ted’s a great guy, I worked with him at Sling Media, where he was VP Product Marketing & Product Management at the time, and these days he’s Senior Director of Product Management for Microsoft Mediaroom. Anyway, Ted, with an assist from TiVo customer advocate Gary Sargent, shared the story of how TiVo obtained the tivo.co.uk domain name back in the day, for their first UK product launch.
It seems a domain name squatter had grabbed tivo.co.uk before TiVo got it. Ted was in charge of the product launch and really wanted the domain name, but the squatter was asking $15,000 for it. TiVo was unwilling to pay such extortion, so Ted decided to try something a bit tricky to get the better of the squatter. He had TiVo’s web team create uk.tivo.com and told the squatter TiVo was no longer interested. Because of the high price TiVo would just go with uk.tivo.com and the squatter was welcome to keep tivo.co.uk.
Suddenly the squatter goes from seeing easy money to holding a nearly worthless domain. If TiVo wasn’t interested in paying him for it, who else was going to pay him big money? No one else was likely to start a company named ‘TiVo’ in the UK, after all.
That’s where Ted really got tricky. Behind the scenes he recruited Gary, one of TiVo’s early customer advocates, to approach the squatter as a user who was interested in launching a TiVo fan site for UK TiVo owners. Since Gary was already known as a vocal member of the TiVo community it was certainly a plausible story. Seeing a chance to salvage something from the blown deal, the squatter agreed to sell the domain to Gary for £500. He originally wanted more, but Gary explained he was starting a non-profit fan site and simply couldn’t afford to pay more, so the squatter took what he thought he could get. It was a far cry from the $15,000 he wanted from TiVo. In exchange TiVo gave Gary a free TiVo DVR with lifetime service.
Gary ran a fan site at the domain for a couple of months to complete the ruse and avoid abuse from the squatter, as he wouldn’t know he’d been had. To complete the process Gary told the squatter TiVo’s lawyers had come after him and he was being forced to turn over the domain to TiVo, making him look like the victim. Gary turned over the domain, which TiVo then used for their product launch as they wanted to all along. And the domain squatter probably thought he’d gotten away with making £500 off of a domain that he would’ve been forced to turn over if he’d still held it when the lawyers got involved, that he’d taken Gary for the money for a domain he couldn’t hold. In reality he sold the domain for less than he probably could’ve made if he’d asked for a more reasonable amount up front, TiVo saved money and potential legal fees, and Gary got a TiVo and lifetime service, which was worth more than £500 at the time.
I really can’t stand domain name squatters, so I think this whole escapade is just awesome. I’m really glad Ted and Gary shared this story, it isn’t the kind of thing you often hear about in corporate histories.
I wonder if the domain name squatter will read this and realize he was had over a decade ago. I kind of hope he does.
You can read the story in their own words at Facebook.