Can Tivo Sell Our Private Information? (Third reading essay)

The impact of Digital Video Recorders (DVR) such as Tivo has been huge. The use of DVR’s changed the television industry as well as our daily lives. A DVR enables its users to record from thirty to hundreds of hours of television programs in its huge hard disk, and the viewers can then watch any programs stored in it whenever they want. This innovative technology has freed viewers from deciding which program they should watch. In other words, the DVR allows its users to disassemble the original on-air schedule and reprogram it freely. Besides, viewers can stop, forward, rewind or even skip the commercials. This new technology has the potential to end the “flow”, the programmer’s effort to dissuade viewers from changing channels by the thorough consideration of the programming schedule and the timing of the commercial interruptions.

With this new pattern of use, the DVR jeopardizes the old business models that are offered by companies such as the Nielsen Media Research which tries to accurately catalogue what viewers watch.  Tivo has a feature which communicates with a central database through the phone line and sends all the actions the viewer makes, from which channel they recorded to changes they made in the volume. The information sent from each Tivo is compiled in the central database. This function disrupts companies specializing in identifying people’s viewing behaviors by performing an intricate procedure of sampling. Under the diffusion of the DVR, their main business, assessing of the price of commercial segments, will no longer be meaningful.

Uprising of this formidable technology, the television and the media research industries have a couple of options to contend against it. Matt Carlson in his book, Tapping into Tivo, points to two ways to interrupt new technologies that can be a threat to the television industry. One is to draw those companies into law suits with complaints such as the copy right violations. It is not necessary to win the case. With their enormous financial resources, media companies can suffocate those rather small companies monetarily through legal efforts. This tactic was applied to SonicBlue, a company that attempted to sell DVRs with a function to skip commercials. With a series of costly law suits by seven companies that included Disney, NBC, Viacom, SonicBlue filed for bankruptcy before the law suit was settled.


Another way to interrupt new technologies is rather more friendly; gaining control of the companies by investing in them. As a matter of fact, a certain amount of Tivo’s shares are owned by NBC, CBS, Discovery and Comcast. Developing strong ties with those media giants, Tivo has chosen the way to cultivate a new market that can be profitable to both sides by collecting accurate information about people’s viewing habits and selling the data to media companies. This new strategy seems to be a very smart move. It solves the conflict between the television industry and the DVR manufacturers, as well as developing a new market of “people’s personal data”.

Many say that DVRs and the threat they bring to the television industry are similar to the Sony Betamax VCR, the first consumer video recorder that turned the television industry upside down thirty years ago. In the VCR case, the television stations and the movie companies backed off fighting with video manufacturers after they found that the profit that the pre-recorded video market created surpassed the loss that VCRs brought to the media industry.


Tivo and Betamax cases have one thing in common. Sony and Tivo ended up cooperating with existing media companies, such as the television and the movie industry, as well as the media research companies, and developed new markets with new technologies such as VCRs and DVRs. Carlson wrote, “The development of new media technology is far from independent from existing media structures.” I cannot agree more with him. What the SonicBlue case is telling us is that all the disruptive technologies can not survive without acting in concert with the contents creators, such as the television stations and the movie studios.  No technologies can thrive in markets without the consent of other companies and the consumers. Then one question comes up to me. When did they get the consent of us, the suppliers of their new commodity, people’s viewing behavior?


Carlson, Matt. Tapping into Tivo: Digital video recorders and the transition from schedules to surveillance in television, New Media society 2006; 8; 97



December 2, 2008 at 11:34 pm Leave a comment

Blogosphere as a Mediator

Democracy is a form of government in which power is held by people under a free electoral system.” (Wikipedia)

I believe in democracy. I believe that it is the world as it should be. In the past, creating a government that reflected all the people’s thoughts and opinions was technically impossible. However, in the case of the 2006 Connecticut Democratic Primary, it showed a new direction which moved closer to ideal democracy.

 In the 2006 Connecticut Senate race, Ned Lamont was new to most of the state Democrats, but he challenged the three-term incumbent Senator, Joe Lieberman, with less than five months to the primary. It seemed foolishly bold. What made this rather audacious attempt possible was the blogosphere sites, such as,, as well as the local sites such as The community of democrats that formed around those weblogs chose, and supported Lamont as the rival candidate of Liberman.

People who contributed to and followed the blogosphere sites were not united in supporting Lamont from the beginning. The initial momentum that goaded them to support Lamont was an “anti-Liberman” mentality, created by his pro-war, pro-Republican attitude. This dissatisfaction eventually led them to vet other Democratic candidates such as Lowell Weicker, and Ned Lamont. Through their discussions on the web, people finally reached the decision that the anti-war, purely Democratic Lamont was the best choice. Then they went on to the next stage of promoting Lamont, raising money, and even acquiring the legitimacy for him to run for the primary, and actually win


The process that they went through, especially the fund raising, used to be done only by the party. Pirch writes, “The party elite controlled the mechanism to raise money and contact the party members; any candidate who wanted to win the party’s nomination needed the blessing of the party.”  Thus, holding a grass-roots insurgent campaign often turned out to be a vain effort.

It is no longer like that.  Information technologies allow people to form a voluntary support group readily. As they showed in the Connecticut Senate race, they can select a candidate, and promote him or her through weblogs, including raising money.

This whole event reminds me of the story Clay Shirky introduced in his book, (Shirkey Clay, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organization.) In spite of a series of child abuse incidents, the only action the Catholic Church took with Father John Georghan was to transfer him from parish to parish, covering up the fact of the abuse. However, a group formed by lay membership, Voice of the Faithful (VOTF), efficiently united the “like-minded” people who had strong discontent toward the decisions of Catholic Church that were only made to cover up the incidents. Their protest movement drew world wide attention and finally made the Catholic Church retire the Father. Shirky pointed out that the key to VOTF’s success was attributed to “removing two old obstacles-locality of information, and barriers to group reaction.” Before the Internet era, lay membership who resented the child abuse incident simply had no means to communicate with other concerned church members who were scattered around the country. With the new social communication tool, VOTF successfully gathered and united those people.

In the Lamont campaign, the majority of the donations and support were coming from outside of Connecticut. Media sites such as DailyKoss, MyDD, and Youtube especially contributed to the anti- Liberman feeling by circulating the controversial video that captured the moment Liberman was kissed by President Bush, which ignited the nation’s widely developed animosity toward Liberman’s intimacy with the President and the Republican Party.  Like the VOTF, discontent toward the “ancient regime” drove them to support Lamont using grass root tool actions. Social communication tools acted as an important role in both cases.

I think that this pattern of activism using the internet and specifically, political blogs will be more common. This trend can change the conventional political organizations, especially local political parties which can be challenged by political blogospheres. I think that the blogosphere will establish its presence as a mediator, or a watch dog, between parties and its members, collecting people’s voices, criticizing authorized candidates and if necessary, backing challengers. The 2006 Connecticut primary presented a possibility of a productive relationship between the parties and blogospheres and took the political world in a new direction moving us closer to ideal democracy.

Pirch, Kevin A. Bloggoers at the Gates, Social Science Computer Review 2008 26

Shirky, Clay. Here Comes Everybody, The Penguin Press



November 25, 2008 at 10:07 pm 1 comment

Bloggers at the gates




2006 Connecticut Democratic Primary was a significant mile stone for the election of Internet era. Ned Lamont’s defeat of incumbent Senator Joe Lieberman, who ran as the nominee of the Connecticut for Lieberman party, was accomplished by making a blogosphere consisted of people who had been developing opposition toward him. Despite the initial support of all the state’s major elected officials, Lieberman lost to Lamont in primary. (more…)

November 12, 2008 at 1:03 am 1 comment

Will the Digital Divide become the Skills Divide?


It is certain that the digital divide is a global issue now. The gap of Internet penetration ratio between the developed world and the developing world is great, but in the long run, I believe that the problem that Andrew Chadwick called “skills divide” will be even more serious. 


November 12, 2008 at 12:55 am 1 comment

Is political blogosphere really productive?

I have chosen “The Political Blogosphere and the 2004 U.S. Election: Divided They Blog” written by Guy J. Golan and Stephen A. Banning in American Behavioral Scientist as the article for my discussion.


October 28, 2008 at 10:43 pm 2 comments



October 15, 2008 at 7:58 pm Leave a comment

Week 8 reading reflection

Since 2005, I have tried to switch all of my phone calls to Skype. Now that I use Skype, it has drastically reduced my phone bill, from hundreds of dollars a month  to under one hundred.
Also, most of my phone calls are made on my cellular phone. My phone calls
 ratio of the  landline to Skype to my cellular phone, is briefly 1 to 3 to 6. In other words, my usage ratio of voice to data is 1 to 9. I think this ratio almost reflect the future of telecommunication. As Christensen
mentioned, established wired services are expected to face a hard time when competing with data services. I basically agree with Christensen’s conclusion that the telecommunication industry will be shrinking. I think those telecommunication giants such as AT&T and SBC will survive and dominate the industry.

The infrastructure telecommunication possesses is a huge resource such as the existing infrastructure that mobile technology largely relies on.  As long as this extensive infrastructure stretches across the whole country and is under the possession of telecommunication companies, mobile companies must stay dependent on telecommunications companies..

1,Why hasn’t VoIP been very successful yet?

2,What do telecom companies need to do in order to compete with entrants in
the Voip technologies?

November 21, 2007 at 12:04 am Leave a comment

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