Reality check: Are DVRs doomed? Depends what you mean by 'doomed'

dvr declared dead

The days of the DVR are numbered. And DVD players and cable TV set-top boxes are slated to join them in history’s recycling pile. At least that’s where Roku CEO Anthony Wood thinks the digital entertainment industry is headed.

Wood made the comments in a recent interview with the Associated Press. His company makes streaming devices that help get Netflix and other over-the-top services to viewers’ television sets and computers. In the past six years, Roku has sold more than 8 million units, and its service carries 1,500 streaming channels, including Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.

Roku Streaming Stick Roku

Will streaming devices like Roku’s Streaming Stick spell the end of content delivery devices like the DVR? Roku CEO Anthony Wood seems to think so.

And to Wood, that spells doom for other content delivery devices like that DVR that’s helping you time-shift your TV watching. “To me, it’s pretty clear that all TV is going to be streamed,” Wood told the AP. “Things like DVD players are going to go away. Cable boxes are obviously going away, too. DVRs are just a stepping stone technology. When everything is on demand, you won’t have to record anything anymore, so that’s going to disappear.”

OK, so discounting the fact that Anthony Wood sells streaming devices for a living—yes, in an earlier life his ReplayTV company sold DVRs, but its butt was summarily kicked by TiVo—let’s consider the possibility that DVRs are doomed.

Is Wood right? It all depends on what you mean by “doomed.”

If by doomed, you mean that people will not access recorded material anymore, the answer is no. The difference is that the DVR of the future—if not right now—will be in the cloud, with the content already prerecorded and served by companies such Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Netflix.

If by doomed, you mean that people won’t record things personally, then likely yes, but only when content does truly move from cable and satellite to the cloud. (In a sense this is happening now with something like Comcast’s Xfinity OnDemand service, though again, the primary way you access that is through the company’s cable box.) Then again, there may always be alternatives. Take Aereo, which lets you access network TV programs to watch live or record for later viewing. That said, the Supreme Court will soon determine whether Aereo’s approach passes legal muster.

As for DVDs, their demise isn’t exactly written in the stars. Consider music: MP3s have been around for years, and yet CDs still go on sale at retailers to the tune of 165.4 million units in the U.S. last year, according to Billboard.com. That number is down from the heyday of the CD—and even down from the 193.4 million CDs sold in 2012—but the market is still there. Meanwhile, the resurgence of LPs suggests that even out-of-favor formats can enjoy something of a revival; 6 million LPs were sold in the U.S. in 2013, up from 4.55 million the previous year.

And as for cable TV set-top boxes, they’ll likely be replaced by some other form of set-top boxes—we never seem to be able to escape having set-top boxes anymore than one universal remote ever truly replaces all others once and for all.

So if we were to run this through the Reality Check machine, Anthony Wood is right in a broad context—increasingly, people are turning to digital content on demand. But DVRs and DVDs should remain around for a while yet, at least in some format. Technologies evolve, merging each other’s best qualities. Take DVDs, where a growing number now come bundled with a digital copy because studios don’t want you to dither over formats. DVRs like TiVo Roamio are also packing in OTT channels like Netflix, and maybe cable boxes will merge with streaming boxes or game consoles in a more profound way.

So don’t ask your DVR to clear out just yet; chances are, it wouldn’t listen to you anyhow.

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