“They thought it was black magic”: an oral history of TiVo


It’s hard to believe, but a scant 20 years have passed since viewers were unshackled from their televisions. For decades, NBC told us Thursday nights were “Must See TV” and ABC insisted it was “TGIF” Friday, so we did as we were told and stayed home to watch Friends, Seinfeld, and Full House.

Then, in 1999, two former employees of Hewlett-Packard and Silicon Graphics (SGI), Jim Barton and Mike Ramsay, introduced a revolutionary new product: a digital video recorder, or DVR. The product, named TiVo, seamlessly recorded shows, paused live television, and allowed users to fast-forward through the commercials. Sure, you could achieve similar wonders with a VCR, but the process was so laborious that few would try. Plus, TiVo included an algorithm to make suggestions about the shows we might want to watch.

TiVo was a giant leap into the digital age that can be traced to the ambitious “Orlando project”.

I first used a TiVo when I moved to Nashville in 2002 and it was incredible. I don’t think I’ve gone without a DVR since.