Ten Years Ago, TiVo's 'Black Thursday' Crash


Back in the early days of TiVo, shortly after the fledgling company launched its very first digital video recorders, there came “Black Thursday”: a crash of its TV listings database that destroyed TiVos across the country.

Richard Bullwinkle, now chief evangelist for Rovi, recalled the dark day during a panel discussion at the Future of Television East conference Thursday in New York.

Before TiVo shipped its first DVR in March 1999, it contacted TV listings provider Tribune Media Services to obtain program information for all areas of the countries. That didn’t exist at the time, according to Bullwinkle, requiring TMS to pull it together for the DVR startup’s launch.

The glitch, about 100 days following the first customer deliveries, happened when TMS sent two different data sets for the same show. The TiVo database wasn’t set up to handle that exception — and went belly up.

While TiVo had only sold 120 DVRs to that point, the “Black Thursday” event required the company to send replacement units to every single customer.

“As a small startup, that hurt,” Bullwinkle said.