Looking to move a little inventory and boost its brand recognition, TiVo is giving away at least 10 digital video recorders each day until Halloween.
The catch: Those who want one of the devices, which records TV shows onto a hard disk drive, are being asked to write an essay in 250 words or less on why they want one. Winners receive a TiVo recorder with 14 hours of disk space, a model that has been heavily discounted recently as machines with larger hard drives become standard. TiVo created the service, but Philips Electronics and Sony manufacture the units.
"All of these units probably would have been reduced," said TiVo spokeswoman Rebecca Baer, who added that the contest units are coming from TiVo's own inventory, not leftovers from retail outlets. Instead of adding to the sales racks, TiVo came up with the contest, which kicked off last Friday.
Contest winners are required to sign up for the $9.95 monthly TiVo service for at least a month. Because of laws that prohibit contests with a mandatory purchase, residents of Arizona, Florida, Maryland, North Dakota and Vermont aren't eligible for the contest.
Initially, TiVo fans on various message boards reported that almost everyone who entered was winning.
One early winner wrote a multi-verse song. Another wrote a rhyming poem. Another person, a message board user by the name of Agamemnon, said he simply got straight to the point.
"I love my Tivo," Agamemnon wrote. "Please give me another. If you give it to me during this contest, you can deduct the full retail cost of the machine as a marketing expense. If, however, you simply discount the price and dump them on the market, you can't."
"It was a hot day in Dallas...The weatherman said it reached 112 degrees at the airport and it had to be that hot at my house as well. All I could think of was getting home to my three window air conditioners, cracking open a cold beer and parking myself in front of the TV in my underwear," started the essay from Pismo, who said he won. "'Hmmm,' I said to myself, 'What to watch today...Nascar or Antiques Roadshow.'"
"I am in desperate need of a TiVo! I work at the Denver zoo, and through some screw-up, I got promoted from my monkey house cleaning job to head zoo keeper. I'd fix this, but I need the extra money for my 9 endangered species pet rocks."
"I need a free TIVO/ To put here in my den/ So when I want to watch a show / It will be on right then/ There are lots of good shows/ I never get to see/ X-Files, Star Trek, Millennium/ And good ol' MST."
However, as word of the contest has spread, reports of the unsuccessful are trickling in as well. Baer said the company was more lenient in the early days but has beefed up its standards now that it is getting hundreds of entries a day.
While sales of the TiVo units and those using the rival ReplayTV service have been relatively modest, TiVo has built somewhat of a cult following, in part because of its hands-off approach toward hackers.
According to the contest rules, TiVo is judging entries based on three criteria: originality and creativity, use of TiVo's brand and exclusive features, and humor.
Baer also offered a little advice for entrants. Although knowing about TiVo's service is a plus, parroting its own marketing materials won't score too high on the creativity scale.
"We've seen a lot of kind of cut and paste, " Baer said. "We appreciate that they are looking at our Web site but reiterating our language isn't necessarily the best formula."