TiVo and Entertainment Weekly team up, but who’s helping whom?

With so many new TV shows debuting each fall, it's hard to keep on top of what's worth watching. If you choose poorly, you could wind up wasting time on shows doomed to cancellation while falling weeks behind on a decent series. Well, TiVo users will soon get a little extra help. The company has teamed up with Entertainment Weekly to allow TiVo subscribers to automatically record the magazine's regular list of must-see TV.

Most analysis paints this EW deal as a desperate push by TiVo. The company, which pioneered digital video recorders a decade ago, has lost considerable ground to DVRs offered by cable companies. TiVo “has only 1.7 million subscribers out of an estimated 26 million DVRs in the US at the end of the first quarter,” reports the The Wall Street Journal.

To remain relevant, TiVo has signed scores of deals with media companies and taste makers. They've dabbled in downloads, YouTube videos, even product deals with Amazon that let users buy items advertised on shows. The hope: Enough bells and whistles will solidify TiVo as a premium brand – something people will seek out instead of settling on package deals from cable providers.

For example, TiVo announced a similar partnership in May with the Chicago Tribune. Users can queue up shows handpicked by the newspaper’s TV critic, Maureen Ryan, and watch her video reviews. In exchange for Ms. Ryan’s trained eye, the paper got a cut of the TiVo subscription fees for every viewer who signed up for the Tribune service. TiVo was mum on the financial details of the EW deal, but it's probably the same basic arrangement.

While TiVo certainly has a long row to hoe, the announcement also comes at a time when critics have less sway over popular viewing habits. The roll of media critics have come under fire, both from and because of the Internet. The web's low barrier to entry means anyone can praise or pan whatever they like. And, especially with movies, critics' scores and box-office returns don't always line up.

Entertainment Weekly is doing just fine as a magazine – it's already one of the most popular movie/TV outlets on the newsstand. But critics in general have been hurting. Thirty-three big time movie reviewers have been "laid off, bought out, retired or reassigned – since January 2006," according to The Salt Lake Tribune. (After receiving his pink slip, former Village Voice critic Nathan Lee snapped in an email that, “And so I am, as they say, ‘looking for work,’ though presumably not as a staff film critic as such jobs no longer appear to exist.”)

If TiVo users latch onto the EW service, it could stand as an example of how new media could help sustain critics. Partnerships like this could reinforce the notion that expertise can guide people through the swamp of season premieres – or just prove that people aren't really listening anyway.
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