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Life-Changing Tech's Fall From Glory

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Before 1999, consumers were still messing with VCRs to, at best, record TV shows. (At worst, it cut off the ending because you never figured out that clock). Then TiVo (TIVO) took over and truly changed the way we watch TV.

The ability to pause live TV, skip commercials and schedule recordings with one button was mind boggling. TiVo, whether it liked it or not, became part of our vernacular -- even to describe other digital video recorders.

But what has TiVo done lately? Did you know or even care that Tim Tebow is the company's new brand ambassador? DVRs are here to stay. Approximately 46% of households have one, according to Leichtman Research Group. But only about 2% use a TiVo. (Also see Tech That Disrupts Our Lives for the Better)

TiVo's not alone. Anyone remember Vonage (VG - Get Report)? Or Movable Type? These companies were groundbreaking and with savvy, they led the way for new markets that affected our everyday lives. They're still around, but what are they up to? Here's a look at what happened to promising companies that changed the way people lived and then seemingly disappeared.


Praised for its convenience and user experience, TiVo became a household name after going public in 1999. In fact, consumers turned TiVo into a verb to describe the ability to record TV. But as cable and satellite TV companies released their own DVRs, the company got distracted with patent-infringement lawsuits and licensing, and it lost its edge.

Fast forward a decade and TiVo continues to plug away with products competitors already offer, like the new TiVo Mini, a small device to pipe recorded video to other rooms. After a major marketing push last year, subscribers are now back to 3 million, which is down from 4.4 million in 2006.

"TiVo's lesson of the challenges of stand-alone is one that others continue to repeat ( Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Next), while Netflix was successful by integrating into other devices," said Bruce Leichtman, president of Leichtman Research Group.

At least the company's finally capitalizing on its customer data to help advertisers figure what commercials people really watch -- or skip. Tom Rogers, TiVo's CEO, said in February, the new TiVo Research and Analytics unit "will become a larger contributor to our growth."
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