Saturday, December 06, 2003

Memo to TiVo: How to Handle Long-Running Events

November 17, 1968 was a red-letter day in the life of an NBC TV executive named Dick Cline. With a minute showing on the clock and the Jets leading the Raiders, he ordered a national football broadcast to cut away to a scheduled showing of the movie Heidi.

The only problem is the Raiders scored two quick touchdowns and millions of viewers were angry.

Dick Cline and his peer TV execs learned an important lesson that day: never cut away from a live event that has millions of eyeballs watching closely for the outcome. Of course that means that when you're covering an event whose time span is unknown, your regular schedule will have to slip. As a viewer if you want to record the event, you don't know when it will end.

TiVo lovers have learned to avoid time-shifting frustration by padding the recording time for sports events. An idea hit me today on how TiVo could handle that problem.

TiVo downloads the starting and ending time for scheduled programs, which works well because most of television is rigidly scheduled. But we don't know how long a sporting event will last in 2003 any better than in 1968.

But TiVo could solve this. All you need is a way for the TiVo to determine when the event actually ends. That wouldn't be that hard to accomplish; for instance, the TiVo could interrogate a special Web site that keeps up with actual ending times. You also could encode the information in the NTSC video signal, much as TV Guide schedules are downloaded to my RCA television. For the latter, you'd need the cooperation of a broadcaster.

You could even imagine TiVo recording breaking news in this manner; a special signal would tell it a special bulletin had started, and the recording would last until the end of coverage signal.

Meanwhile the new NFL Network is going to get even with Heidi:

Elsewhere: The new NFL Network, so far available only to DirecTV subscribers, will commemorate one of the horrors of TV football history at 9 p.m. Monday when it shows the movie Heidi.
The telecast of the movie will include interviews with Delbert Mann, who directed it; Dick Cline, the NBC executive who ordered the switch from the game to the movie, and Jets cornerback Johnny Sample. You'll also get to see the two touchdowns that weren't televised.

The telecast may also pay Heidi back for interrupting football. An NFL Network spokesman wouldn't promise that all the movie will air.