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Hidden ad-skipping feature found in TiVo

A specific pattern of keystrokes on a remote control for TiVo digital video recorders enables subscribers to activate a feature making it easier to skip through ads.

A hidden feature on remote controls for TiVo digital video recorders lets viewers skip ads more easily.

The "Easter egg"--industry jargon for a feature that is revealed when an unlikely series of keystrokes is entered--allows subscribers to make 30 second jumps in recorded programming.

The special sequence of key commands is being promoted on TiVo enthusiast Web sites, such as TiVo Community Forum.

The pattern consists of pressing the following buttons in sequence: Select, Play, Select, 3, 0, Select. Entering the same pattern again also deactivates the capability. The recorder "bings" three times to acknowledge the activation of the feature. Pressing the advance key on the remote control skips 30 seconds of recorded television programming.

TiVo spokeswoman Rebecca Baer said the capability was developed early on before the service and DVRs were made available and was meant only for internal company use. After some consumer research and strategizing, the San Jose, Calif.-based company decided to forgo disclosing the feature, according to Baer.

"It was good in theory, but not in practice," Baer said. "We simply never went back to strip it out, but we can do so at any time."

Baer added that the company does not plan to remove the capability from the software's Linux-based code, nor does it plan to promote it as a feature. Baer would not comment on what other capabilities may have been written into the software code but not disclosed.

Ad skipping is one of the main features that TiVo competitor Sonicblue promotes in its ReplayTV digital video recorder. Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sonicblue's ad-skipping capability does more than 30 second jumps in programming, it can actually remove commercials from the playback of recorded shows. The feature has been controversial from a legal standpoint, resulting in an ongoing copyright infringement lawsuit, which was filed against Sonicblue by media companies, including AOL Time Warner, Walt Disney, MGM and Vivendi Universal.

TiVo has been more conservative when it comes to developing and promoting features that may incur the wrath of media companies.

The two companies' handling of ad-skipping capabilities "represents a difference in their (respective) philosophies," Jupiter Research analyst Michael Gartenberg said. "It reflects the different ways they are going after their markets."

Baer said that avoiding legal battles with media companies played a role in the decision not to promote an ad-skipping capability, but consumer feedback did as well.

Media companies AOL Time Warner, Cox Communications, Comcast, Showtime and Walt Disney are equity investors in TiVo.