Consumer Relations: Product giveaway pays off for TiVo in war with Comcast

Cable company Comcast announced in December that its digital video recorder (DVR) was available in the Bay Area, just in time for the holidays.

Cable company Comcast announced in December that its digital video recorder (DVR) was available in the Bay Area, just in time for the holidays.

With visions of DVRs dancing in their heads, many cable subscribers called Comcast to sign up, only to be told that the service was available in limited cities. Finding themselves on a waiting list, Bay Area consumers promptly put Comcast on their holiday naughty lists and sought another way to satiate their DVR needs.

When news broke in the local press one December weekend that residents couldn't get the service Comcast promised, TiVo was ready to act the following Monday. The company - often credited with creating the DVR market - decided to capitalize on the opportunity as quickly as possible, says Kathryn Kelly, outgoing senior PR manager. [Kelly announced that she was leaving the company this month (PRWeek, February 14).]

"We wanted to do something that [following] weekend," says Kelly. "We had to make up our mind quickly. We knew Comcast was going to announce the service. But we felt that when they told people it wasn't available and put them on a waiting list, they were trying to trump our holiday sales."


To make sure Comcast didn't ruin TiVo's holiday, the company decided to turn the tables and entice Comcast's customers with everyone's favorite four-letter word - free. The company decided to give away more than 2,000 TiVo boxes to Comcast customers who brought their cable bills with them on December 17 to company headquarters. To tie the event into the holidays, TiVo also decided that each Comcast customer had to bring a toy for the Bay Area-based nonprofit Family Giving Tree, which helps fulfill the holiday wishes of children in need.

"The strategy met a bunch of different needs," explains Kelly. "It would raise awareness of the company. It would put a DVR in the hands of people who wanted one. And it gave us an opportunity to give something back to the community."


TiVo pulled in its corporate agency - OutCast Communications - to decide the best way to spread the word. With only a few days to work with, TiVo first placed an ad about the giveaway in local papers on the Wednesday before the event. That gave the PR team less than 48 hours to generate media coverage.

The TiVo team opted to keep the coverage as local as possible. They didn't want to upset potential users outside the Bay Area who couldn't get a free TiVo.

Radio and TV press and bloggers played a big role, adds OutCast VP Dave Reddy.

"We talked to media we don't normally talk to," he says. "We knew talking to people on the radio would help attract the public. This wasn't a business story. This was more of an event. We wanted to generate as much word-of-mouth as possible. We wanted the people who were really passionate about TiVo to drive this."


While TiVo planned to hold the giveaway from 11am to 1pm, people started to line up at 4:30am. Kelly estimates that more than 2,500 people showed up, which means that all 2,000 TiVo boxes were handed out, and some people were left wanting. But those who didn't leave with a TiVo got a coupon for $50 off, which they could use in addition to the $100 rebate offer being presented at the time.

So with the giveaway, TiVo gained 2,000 new subscribers, the Family Giving Tree received more than 2,500 new toys, and broadcast and print media coverage the day of the event demonstrated the brand passion that TiVo wanted to showcase.


Kelly says this was a one-time event, simply because of the timing of the circumstances.

"It was a great event, but this isn't something we would duplicate around the US," she says. "We got e-mail from people asking us to do this in their state."

PR team: TiVo (Alviso, CA) and OutCast Communications (San Francisco)

Campaign: TiVo Holiday Giveaway

Time frame: December 2004

Budget: $100,000 (includes advertising; does not include cost of TiVo boxes)

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