Back in the 2000s, everyone wanted you to think their box was a “media hub.” They wanted it to be the only box in your living room, capable of satisfying all your entertainment needs. This was true of DIRECTV’s HD DVR as much as anything else.
Within 6 months of its launch, DIRECTV DVRs could not only show live and recorded TV from antenna and satellite, but could play videos and show pictures from a local network. They could also play YouTube videos. iHeartRadio came later along with Pandora.
It sounded like a good idea…
In fact it was a good idea. It just wasn’t a good execution. The search interface was confusing, and the video and picture playback was not very robust. People didn’t like using their DVR for this function because it was so much easier to do it with another device.
By 2015, streaming boxes were becoming very popular. Roku, AppleTV, and others had smartphone interfaces and a much better experience. The YouTube app for DIRECTV receivers had aged badly by then. It didn’t support the latest codecs and that turned out to be a problem. In 2015 YouTube itself retired its support for the technologies used for playback on DIRECTV receivers. So, DIRECTV itself had no choice. YouTube support on DIRECTV receivers ended in the spring of 2015.
What if they played a video and nobody came?
The interesting thing about this whole story is that aside from a few posts on enthusiast web sites, no one complained. It’s almost like no one noticed, and I’d be willing to bet that’s actually close to the truth. The YouTube experience on DIRECTV had fallen so far behind that people just didn’t use it much anymore.
Blame it on the smartphone
The DIRECTV HD DVR was designed and first built between 2005 and 2006. That may not seem like a long time ago but there’s one big difference between then and now: the coming of the modern smartphone.
Of course there were “smart” phones before the iPhone. The Blackberry, Moto Q, and even Windows phones let you manage your contacts, surf the web (kinda) and stay in communication with text an email. These devices were starting to gain ground in the 2000s, but they didn’t really explode until the iPhone came around. When Steve Jobs showed iPhone in 2007 it just changed the game.
One by one, standalone devices started disappearing. Who needs a compass, a music player, a digital camera, a news reader, or any of that stuff when that wedge of black glass and metal started showing up in people’s pockets.
iPhones had YouTube support from day one. So did Android phones. Although the screen sizes were small, the browsing and search experience was so much better that DIRECTV didn’t stand a chance.
Of course rather than try to beat the smartphone, DIRECTV joined the revolution. The original DIRECTV app for iPhone was one of the first TV provider apps and it continues to lead the pack to this day.
DIRECTV had the right idea
The idea of a central entertainment hub wasn’t a bad one. It was just ahead of its time. Today we have streaming boxes that can take care of nearly every entertainment need you’d want, including live video thanks to DIRECTV NOW and Sling. It’s all possible today because we just didn’t have technologies that we needed back then.