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TiVo To Sell Customer Data 469

camusflage writes "Yahoo has a story that details TiVo's plans to sell customer data to advertisers and broadcasters. While individuals will be anonymous, data will be made available in aggregate form, including ZIP code. The San Jose Mercury News has additional coverage on the news."
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TiVo To Sell Customer Data

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  • Good for them... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GreenJeepMan ( 398443 ) * <josowski@[ ] ['tyb' in gap]> on Monday June 02, 2003 @02:06PM (#6097533) Homepage Journal
    No one individuals personal privacy has been violated. So what is the big deal? Hopefully if they can sustain enough income from this, they can drop their monthly fees.
  • by blair1q ( 305137 ) on Monday June 02, 2003 @02:06PM (#6097536) Journal
    Unless you own your own zip-code (Ted Turner) this does not affect your "rights" in any way.
  • by pmz ( 462998 ) on Monday June 02, 2003 @02:06PM (#6097542) Homepage
    Unless there's a ZIP code in Wyoming with only one person...I don't see any rights being trampled, here.
  • Not a problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Zirnike ( 640152 ) on Monday June 02, 2003 @02:07PM (#6097551) Journal
    "in aggregate form"

    Nothing to see here. Move along.

    Aggregate data is fine, for the most part (obviously, if your consumer base is 5 people, there might be an issue), but for this, I don't see the problem. And I'm a serious privacy advocate...

    • Exactly right. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by BoomerSooner ( 308737 ) on Monday June 02, 2003 @02:17PM (#6097709) Homepage Journal
      HIPAA laws even allow for this. I work in long term care and we group data by regions. We just remove all identifiable data.

      This allows us to do trending and catch things that would otherwise be impossible.

      Trending is good when it's aggregate data. When the book police come to your door it's bad.

    • Aggregate data is fine, for the most part (obviously, if your consumer base is 5 people, there might be an issue)

      No issue there either because, in practice, noone will ever buy a demographic for 5 people.

  • by TedTschopp ( 244839 ) on Monday June 02, 2003 @02:07PM (#6097553) Homepage
    To me this doesn't seem like a big deal. This type of information is a marketing pleb's dream. And it looks like information about you personally would not be viewable. Aggregate is the way we as privacy experts should be pushing as a compromise. This is no big deal. And as someone who has seen how this aggregate data is used with GIS software. Again, I say... Nothing to see, move along. Ted Tschopp
  • pr0n (Score:5, Funny)

    by Jukeb0x ( 678229 ) on Monday June 02, 2003 @02:08PM (#6097559) Homepage
    Finally they might give me the pr0n-commercials and ads I've been waiting for!
    • Yeah! I personally can't *wait* for those penis enlargement ads and the ads that say I can work from home and make big $$$! w00t! I'm gonna only an hour a day, be independently wealthy, AND have 13 inches! I'll be a babe magnet for sure!

      Where do I sign up for TiVO?
  • by icemax ( 565022 ) <matthew_d_stone@ ... inus threevowels> on Monday June 02, 2003 @02:08PM (#6097561) Homepage
    Seems like this has been going on [] since the beginning
  • by berniecase ( 20853 ) * on Monday June 02, 2003 @02:08PM (#6097567) Homepage Journal
    I wish I could say I was surprised, but I'm not. So they're going to sell this information to other people, but I'd like to see it for myself, too. I'd like to know just what they're tracking and how the reports look for the ad agencies buying this stuff.

    I wonder if TiVo includes any data like "we know that such-and-such in this zip code makes between 40,000-80,000 a year and has 2.3 kids, etc."

    Is there an opt-out feature? Can I keep the anonymous data from getting to TiVo the first place (apart from unplugging the unit)?
    • by realdpk ( 116490 ) on Monday June 02, 2003 @02:14PM (#6097656) Homepage Journal
      How would TiVo know you make between 40,000 and 80,000 a year?

      TiVo knows that I make more than $155.88/year, but I haven't given them an indication of how much more.

      And yes, there's an opt out feature in the TiVo, so you can have your viewing statistics removed from your zip code. Big win for privacy. ;) Just don't complain when your local station uses the info and decides to cancel your favorite three-thumbs-up show. ;)
    • So they're going to sell this information to other people, but I'd like to see it for myself, too.

      I'm sure lots of us would like to see that data, but if they made it available to us for free, that would kinda negate the possibility of them SELLING the data for $$$, you know? Contact Tivo and I'm sure they'll get together a quote for you and you could purchase the data too.

      Is there an opt-out feature?

      Yes, you can call Tivo and opt-out, should you choose. It's quick and hassle free, I know lots of other Tivo owners who have done that.

      Personally, I haven't opted out. I've seen the data that is sent to Tivo, it can't be tracked to me individually, and I'd like Tivo to be able to make a buck so they don't go out of business.

      Really folks, this isn't a paranoid, tinfoil hat issue. It's just business, and Tivo's model seems far more ethical than most. I'm more than happy to help them out. It doesn't cost me anything.
    • I wonder if TiVo includes any data like "we know that such-and-such in this zip code makes between 40,000-80,000 a year and has 2.3 kids, etc."

      That's where ACORN cluster data [] comes in handy...
    • "Is there an opt-out feature? Can I keep the anonymous data from getting to TiVo the first place (apart from unplugging the unit)?"

      Other people have already mentioned that you can opt-out by calling TiVo. What they haven't mentioned is that when you do so, your TiVo stops uploading the viewing data altogether. I think there was some technical/debugging logs that might've still been sent though. It's been awhile since I've read up on it, but you can probably find more information on one of the TiVo hack

  • by ivan256 ( 17499 ) * on Monday June 02, 2003 @02:08PM (#6097572)
    I thought they had planned to do this all along.

    Either way, it's yet another reason to buy a TiVo instead of building your own (yes, I wrote that correctly). If you're using a TiVo companies will be paying attention to what you watch and potentially using the info to determine what to put on in the future. Build your own and they won't.
    • Good point. However, I would assume most people who would build their own need a TV listing data stream as well. I'm sure that determined people have found a way to do this (parsing/extracting data from existing websites, etc..) but I would think there is a potential business model here -- provide TV listings and whatnot in a XML stream, provide API's (free/open source?) to developers who wish to utilize it, and a free data service to the general public in exchange for submitting viewing habits and other
  • Opt Out Option (Score:5, Informative)

    by sweeney37 ( 325921 ) * <mikesweeney AT gmail DOT com> on Monday June 02, 2003 @02:08PM (#6097574) Homepage Journal
    You can Opt-Out of the Marketing data collection by calling Customer Care (877-For-TiVo)

    • That's true, and it is better than nothing. But, wouldn't it be a lot nicer if all of these companies that sell/share your data had an Opt-In policy instead. That way, maybe, your data could be private by default rather than having to call and send letters to all these different organizations in order to "Opt-Out"
      • > wouldn't it be a lot nicer if all of these companies [...] had an Opt-In policy

        That is a good idea for privacy, but to be realistic, most people don't give a hoot for their privacy (or lack thereof) on something as benign as viewing habits. That means that very few (if any) people would opt-in or even know how to, not making it worth their time to insert that data collecting "feature."
  • Last I checked... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Monday June 02, 2003 @02:09PM (#6097586) Homepage
    ...the TV ratings (those Nieslen boxes) were divided by various zones as well. Perhaps not quite as finemasked as this, but I really don't see much of a privacy issue here. As long as they don't start selling subscription data for direct marketing, I wouldn't mind.

  • No real news here (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cmeans ( 81143 ) * <(moc.raftni) (ta) (snaemc)> on Monday June 02, 2003 @02:09PM (#6097590) Homepage Journal
    TiVo always indicated that they might do this. You agree to it in the EULA/Terms of Service. I'm glad they've got another option for a revenue stream, especially as it could mean a slight improvement in AD quality.

  • I work in a pet store and we are always in need of paper to line the Chinchilla corrals etc.

    The more junk mail we get, the better -- we can line all the cages and not feel guilty about wasting paper!

    And why do we have Tivo in the store?

    Animal Planet, baby!!! :-)

  • by graveyhead ( 210996 ) <fletch AT fletchtronics DOT net> on Monday June 02, 2003 @02:10PM (#6097608)
    I hope the networks (in addition to the advertisers which will of course snap it up... thank god for keyword 'aggregate') will look at this data as well. I have always thought that I effectively have a Nielson box sitting under my TV, so why shouldn't they take advantage of it? Maybe Firefly would still be on the air with statistics from our Tivo boxes...
  • oh great (Score:5, Funny)

    by Lxy ( 80823 ) on Monday June 02, 2003 @02:12PM (#6097636) Journal
    Now mass marketers will think I'm Gay [].
  • by Big Toe ( 112240 ) on Monday June 02, 2003 @02:13PM (#6097640) Journal
    Imagine if you could change the information sent to Tivo so the advertisers thought young teenagers watched "The 700 Club" and retired senior citizens watched MTV. Soon Depends undergarments will advertise during TRL and Trojan condoms will be blasting its ads to conservative republicans. That would be dope.
  • Just set your box to record lots of stuff that you want "THEM" to think you watch during the night or when you're not at home and there's nothing else that you care about. That way, your pr0n habits will seem like more of a statistical aberration.

  • Not a big deal. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by brooks_talley ( 86840 ) <brooks&frnk,com> on Monday June 02, 2003 @02:13PM (#6097650) Journal
    Am I the only one who thinks that the extreme "privacy" fringe is doing a lot to discredit legitimate privacy concerns.

    I care if Tivo sells a list of the programs to watch to a local advertiser who will then call me on the phone, bang on my door, or spam me with "special offers just for me." Tivo, in that case, is attempting to act as a middleman in setting up a business relationship that I have no interest in.

    I do not care if Tivo sells data about how many people in California, or even my ZIP code, watched Buffy last night.

    Now, there are issues with privacy policies; if Tivo has said that they wouldn't do this and then have, they've lied to their customers, and even the most paranoid privacy freak has a right to expect companies to live up their word.

    But really, there are enough *very* significant privacy issues today that relate to *government* spying on *individuals* with no probably cause, warrant, etc.

    I'm not at all sure that groups, such as "everyone who lives in my ZIP code" are, or should be, entitled to the same level of privacy protection that individuals deserve.

    I mean, if I go down to the street corner and count how many people push the "push to cross" button and then sell that data to the people who make "push to cross" buttons, am I somehow violating peoples' privacy? If I do it in 10 cities? 100? Does it matter if I'm incorporated and have employees or not?

    I'm willing to hear the other side, and I certainly subscribe to the slippery-slope argument, but for the most part I think this kind of corporate aggregation of data is at most a very minor concern in a world filled with huge privacy issues.

  • Cool with me. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Schezar ( 249629 ) on Monday June 02, 2003 @02:14PM (#6097658) Homepage Journal
    I want the ad moguls and networks to know what I watch, because they might just notice that my viewing habits, like those of many people, are nothing like what they believe them to be.

    I don't watch ads. Period. I watch a few good shows, and I ignore the rest.

    On a larger scale, my dream would be for the entire system of free-but-with-forced-ad-watching television to fall to pieces. Sure, it might mean the end of television as mass-media, but it would also force a lot of mouth-breathers to do something other than watch TV every night.

    Of course, I'm pretty tired right now, so make what you will of the preceding. ^_~
  • And again (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ( 2573 ) on Monday June 02, 2003 @02:15PM (#6097676) Homepage
    This came up during the superbowl commercial rating. Tivo released info saying which superbowl commercials its viewers watched most.

    Again I say, Tivo selling the viewing info is a GOOD THING. I am tired of shows I like getting cancelled for lack of Neilson ratings. I've never been nor have I even known a Neilson family. I don't like the fact that someone else is deciding what's good TV and what should be cancelled.

    This will broaden the base of input for TV ratings. Another plus, Tivo owners tend to be geekish. This will most likely help the rating and staying power of shows that geeks watch (sci-fi to be specific). Maybe we finally have a fighting chance against inane 30 minute sitcoms and 'reality' TV.

  • by mjmalone ( 677326 ) on Monday June 02, 2003 @02:15PM (#6097680) Homepage
    My brother works for TiVo, and they have been planning to do this from the getgo. The idea is that they will be able to target advertising to different customer groups. For example, Ford might buy a 30 second ad spot, on a TV owned by a single man, 25 years old, might display an ad for a Ford Mustang while a TV owned by a family of 5 might show an ad for a minivan. This doesnt seem like a big deal to me, in fact I kind of like the fact that I wont have to sit through as many ads for crap I really am not interested in... I can finally watch the beer and sports car commercials I love so much.
    • That's much like saying you "kind of like" the targetted banner ads that you get from doubleclick et al.
    • by SuperQ ( 431 ) * on Monday June 02, 2003 @02:25PM (#6097789) Homepage
      What I'd like to see is for there to be an option in the tivo ad item (main screen) to thumb-down an ad I don't like, or don't even want to watch..
    • In the meantime I shall use the 30-sec skip backdoor code


      No more commercials for me!
    • Quote: " in fact I kind of like the fact that I wont have to sit through as many ads for crap I really am not interested in... I can finally watch the beer and sports car commercials I love so much."

      Only if that's what all your neighbors watch also! GOd help you if you are the only person that hates that stuff in a community. Now EVERY ad will be offensive and NO ad will be anything you "want" to see. This is the dark side of generic location based advertising (Not that they don do that now to some degree)
  • I'm tired of this (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Palshife ( 60519 ) on Monday June 02, 2003 @02:19PM (#6097729) Homepage
    Read the privacy policy []. It's been around since TiVo was founded, and nothing in that time has changed.

    TiVo has been selling your demographic data for years. Superbowl advertisers bought information from TiVo to see which Brittney Spears commercial got the most replay and in which kinds of households.

    This has absolutely nothing to do with an infrigement of rights, as it all strictly adheres to an agreement between customer and provider made fully clear at the time of purchase.

    To offset the costs of building and maintaining a complicated system that provides an excellent service to consumers they sell information on their demographics. Anyone wanna tell me how that makes them evil all of a sudden?
  • by presearch ( 214913 ) * on Monday June 02, 2003 @02:22PM (#6097760)
    You buy a TiVo box for a few hundred, pay a few hundred
    more for the subscription that doesn't really pay
    for content, just indexing and the privilege of them
    not disabling the box that you paid for. All of this in
    order to watch commercial-filled television that you
    are also paying your sat or cable company even more
    money for, all tied up in a DRM wrapper.

    Now, they are collecting your stats, your private life
    (as collected on the box you paid for, perhaps continually),
    and selling it. And people here think it's great because
    (at least today) it's not directly tied to your name.

    Boy, that TV must be really great stuff.
    • by Wateshay ( 122749 ) <> on Monday June 02, 2003 @02:58PM (#6098139) Homepage Journal
      I know you're just trying to be funny, but that's really not accurate:

      1) If you fail to subscribe to the TiVo service, they don't in any way shape or form disable your box. Of course, you don't have access to the subscription information, or software updates, which are what the service pays for, and which are in my personal opinion well worth the cost of the service.

      2) You've apparently never used a TiVo. Most TiVo users rarely ever watch commercials. They fast forward through them because they're watching things that have been previously recorded.

      3) The TiVo doesn't have any DRM. It's on-disk data format is undocumented, but if you look online you can find software that has figured out how to extract it. There is, however, no encryption, and nothing that keeps you from duping something on your TiVo off onto a VCR tape (in fact the TiVo has some features that make that process easier).

      4) From the beginning, TiVo has always reserved the right to sell aggregate data, and has always promised to protect individual data. Nothing has changed. It is also unlikely that anything will change, because individual data is next to worthless. No one cares whether or not you watch American Idol. They only care what percentage of 18-30 year olds watch American Idol. The bad PR that TiVo would receive would never be worth the value of selling individual data.
  • I am a data FIEND. I LOVE data, I love varied data, good data, bad data, random data, and wierd data. I like playing with it, and running stats on it and basically just wallowing in it.

    So frankly, pretty much any data collection gets my approval, as long as anonymity is preserved. Really, the specific data is the least useful. Who cares what one guy does? There is no reason to collect that data except for the express purpose of violating someones privacy. Now tell me what every guy between 20 and 30 is doi
  • by tmark ( 230091 ) on Monday June 02, 2003 @02:25PM (#6097786)
    OSDN is already using your data for their own benefit:

    OSDN may use accumulated aggregate data for several purposes including, but not limited to, marketing analysis, evaluation of OSDN's services, and business planning. .

    There is no prohibition against selling it to other parties. So why the cry of wolf ? I'm pretty sure that if someone found aggregate Slashdot information useful, OSDN would be - or is - selling it. And I don't care. Is it a violation of my privacy if some marketing firm studies aggregate customer behavior in a store and discovers that the majority of customers turn right when they enter ? I don't think it is, and that sort of aggregate research is happening all the time.

  • Ain't no thing.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by billmaly ( 212308 ) <(bill.maly) (at) (> on Monday June 02, 2003 @02:26PM (#6097801)
    1. I record shows for the kids and History/Discovery channel stuff for myself. A few network shows here and there, and once in awhile, a little T&A off the cable channels. Naughty, but not really embarassing. If this gets "reported" I can live with it. However, it's broken down by zip code, so I don't have many concerns. Plus, if it shows that I really like well thought out, witty commercials (there are some out there), basically advertainment and not mindless ads, and this creates better advertainment for me, is this not a good thing?

    2. TiVo could become more relevant that Neilsen data. Imagine, they can break down for networks what was recorded vs. what was actually watched, when it was watched, and what commercials were watched while viewing. Combine this with the fact (here's where TiVo shareholder's laugh with glee) that I will PAY THEM to LET THEM track this data, and be happy to do so, it's a win win for the company and the consumer.

    TiVo truly does put one in control of their viewing. If they want to gather a little data, virtually anonymously, fine by me.
  • Initially i thought that this was a good thing. If a bunch of geeks like me are out there watching the same shows as I am and those numbers are being represented to the stations then maybe I wouldn't have to start watching a show, think it's good, and then wonder what happened to it (firefly).

    However, should the stations use this information in the same manner as they use the neilson stuff (which I assume is regulated in distribution somehow) then what's to keep some production company from buying a bunch
  • Hopefully mods will see past the topic before modding me down...
    TiVo has been saying they're doing to do this for years now. It's always been planned to do this by zip code with no names. Yeah, it's really going to suck. They're (The networks) are going to figure out what we like and make MORE OF IT! Yeah, we're screwed over on this one, alright.
    TiVo users are probably very heavily in the tech. industry. That means our shows are probably pretty similar. Family Guy, Futurama, John Doe (maybe), The Agency...
  • by ethaz ( 413842 ) on Monday June 02, 2003 @02:33PM (#6097855)
    See, they could get the radius server logs from UUNet and then check the time of the call and compare it with logs received at that time and look for the secret code embedded in the logs [they deny it but I know it's there] and then compare it to the wiretaps from Echelon and then run the whole thing through the NSA supercomputer and then they'll know that I watched the Brady Bunch and then my boss will know [because he gets a secret report on me from the NSA] and then I'll be passed over for promotion because he is a
    Partridge Family fan and then I'll be a target for the next layoff and then I'll be laid off and then I'll lose my house and then my wife will leave me and then I'll get beat up at the rescue mission over a bottle of MD20-20 and then they'll put impants in my brain at the emergency room and then the CIA will transmit orders to me through PBS and then I'll have to wear aluminum foil on my head all the time and then that won't matter because while I am laying in the gutter on skid row George W. Bush and Dick Cheney will send a UFO to abduct me and then I'll get probed (ouch) and then the aliens will clone me and then the clone will take over my old life and then I'll be a slave in the methane mines on Altair IV and then I'll get spaced by a slorg monster and then I'll die. All because of Tivo.

    (I posted this to Usenet a while back, but since the privacy hysteria is starting again, I thought I would outline the threat as seen by some.)

  • Who needs Neilson when we have Tivo?
    I am absolutely serious. That is the data Tivo needs to be selling.
  • by Gunzour ( 79584 ) <slashdot AT tycoononline DOT com> on Monday June 02, 2003 @02:47PM (#6098034) Homepage Journal
    Two major things to point out to those who will complain about the invasion of privacy: 1) Tivo says the info will be anonymous, and I believe them as that is all networks and advertisers are interested in anyway. 2) Tivo does allow you to opt-out from even anonymous data collection if you call up their customer service number.

    I like it because I think it will show several interesting things about viewing habits. I think they will find that quality shows tend to have more loyal viewers than cheaper programming. I think they will also find that Tivo owners *do* watch some commercials, and that commercials are much more likely to be watched if they are *good*. I would hope than advertisers are smarter than we give them credit for, and I expect they won't mind, for example, if men fast forward past commercials for women's products.
  • by gsfprez ( 27403 ) on Monday June 02, 2003 @02:47PM (#6098036)
    They are clearly stating that they are not going down to a single person... so there is no issue here.

    in fact, all that can happen from this is a) increase revenue/profits for a kick-ass outfit like TiVo (we're still sorta in a capitalist society here, aren't we?) b) reduce my bill.

    Both are a win.

    Hell, if they wanted to identify it down to me (Nielsen?) and charge me nothing for the service.. i'd be up for that.

    but that's me. If you'd not be down with that, then they should not have any right to do that.

    and since they are not, this is a GOOD news story, not a BAD news story.
  • by The Lynxpro ( 657990 ) <> on Monday June 02, 2003 @03:02PM (#6098189)
    Actually, TiVo reporting the aggregate viewing statistics was a *compelling feature* of the service to me. I HATE (repeat after me, HATE) the Nielsen's. I do not believe 6,000 homes accurately reflects the television viewership of this nation, especially when it depends on those people sitting down and logging their viewing experience in a journal. There have been far too many good television shows cancelled because the Nielsen "families" didn't watch it or chose to record it on their VCRs. There are 700,000 + TiVo subscribers versus 6,000 Nielsen homes. You tell me which one will have better statistics. Even if the Nielsens actually represent a larger overall base of the American market, the TiVo subscribers will actually represent the groups advertisers want to reach anyway (tech savvy Gen X and Gen Y, and babyboomers with money). Now if I could just do a total "thumbs down" to all of Cal Worthington's ads I'd be a happy camper...
  • by CausticWindow ( 632215 ) on Monday June 02, 2003 @03:05PM (#6098222)
    Anybody remember this:

    Mr. Iwanyk, 32 years old, first suspected that his TiVo thought he was gay, since it inexplicably kept recording programs with gay themes. A film studio executive in Los Angeles and the self-described "straightest guy on earth," he tried to tame TiVo's gay fixation by recording war movies and other "guy stuff."

    "The problem was, I overcompensated," he says. "It started giving me documentaries on Joseph Goebbels and Adolf Eichmann. It stopped thinking I was gay and decided I was a crazy guy reminiscing about the Third Reich."

    Not so sure the Tivo data is worth much.

  • by Tsu Dho Nimh ( 663417 ) <abacaxi@hot[ ] ['mai' in gap]> on Monday June 02, 2003 @03:40PM (#6098820)
    Taking the devil's side on this:

    "Aggregate" data by 5-digit zip code is not enough to personally identify you. It's like watching log-ins by IP address. You get liumped with everybody else who was watching Smallville or Buffy reruns.

    Marketing is ESSENTIAL to support broadcast TV as we know it. Someone has to pay for all those production costs, and right now it is the advertisers. I like it that way. TIVO and other time-shifting technologies scare advertisers and TV producers because they see costs rising and revenues dwindling.

    Companies waste a lot of money on advertising because they don't know what commercials "work" (or are at least watched). If they could get fast feedback, maybe the really stupid and pointless commercials would go away faster. If they could get better at spotting what ads are getting viewed/skipped on what shows, maybe the shows wouldn't go away for lack of advertisers.

  • by Vinnie_333 ( 575483 ) on Monday June 02, 2003 @03:54PM (#6099023)
    . . . they're sampling the programs that are being recorded. Record your favorite shows! Even if you're watching them live! If they would have sold this data last year we could have saved Firefly, Futurama, and Farscape.
  • by John Jorsett ( 171560 ) on Monday June 02, 2003 @07:16PM (#6101124)
    If you're seriously concerned about it, figure out the format of the data Tivo sends in (some Tivo hacker may have already done it for you), interpose an old computer with Linux between it and the phone line, and filter out the stuff you don't want it to send in. Or if you're really adept, perhaps you could find a way to insert a filter program in the Tivo itself, and save the extra hardware. After seeing what Tivo hackers have done in the past, I have to think either of these approaches is possible.

"No, no, I don't mind being called the smartest man in the world. I just wish it wasn't this one." -- Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias, WATCHMEN