Update: More comments from Mark Ely hinting at Simple.TV’s future at the end of the article.
Has Simple.TV tapped out of the OTA DVR race?
Simple.TV’s Not-So-Simple Beginnings
At the beginning of 2012, Simple.TV had the potential to take cord cutting to the next level. Sure, there were other over-the-air (OTA) DVRs on the market, but this was the first that connected to your router as opposed to your TV. It would allow you to stream to mobile devices as well as streaming boxes like Roku and Apple TV.
The hype was significant. To give you an example, check out this update from day 2 of their initial Kickstarter campaign.
People were so excited about this breakthrough device that they funded $50K within the first day. In fact, they met their $125K goal in just 8 days.
The hype didn’t stop there. Plenty of people thought Simple.TV had the opportunity to change the way cord cutters went about their content consumption, as evidenced by articles like this.
However, early reviews questioned if the device lived up to its promise. Headlines like “Simple.TV’s unique DVR is a cord-cutter’s dream (but isn’t for everyone)” and “Simple.TV Review: Cheap, Innovative, but Limited Cord-Cutter’s DVR” essentially said “cool concept…but…” Complaints ranged from setup difficulties to mediocre picture quality. The single tuner also proved problematic, as it only allowed users to watch/record one show at a time.
Regardless, people jumped behind the new technology and by the close of the Kickstarter campaign, they had almost doubled their original goal with $226K.
But then things started to slow down. Shipping dates were pushed back repeatedly. Even once the initial batches went out, they ran into trouble with U.S. Customs, further delaying things.
We had a very large order of several hundred units that had an overly lengthy visit with U.S. Customs last week. We did not anticipate that manufacturing our product in Toronto would potentially cause troubles with international shipping (it’s not like we’re mailing seeds or animals or anything!) Unfortunately, Customs had been hanging on to our orders for nearly a week before finally releasing them, slowing us down on nearly 1,000 deliveries.”
To make things worse, customer complaints started pouring in about various setup and performance issues. Some found their devices stuck on “searching for device on your network,” while others lamented that all their box did was “flash a blue light and say Simple.TV is not available.” The people behind Simple.TV took notice of the performance issues, and rolled out a series of updates throughout the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013.
The 2nd Generation of Simple.TV
Despite the issues, Simple.TV managed to raise a whopping $5.7 million in funding from New World Ventures by April 2013. It was clear they were ramping up for something big, and that the potential was still there. Something fresh and new was on the horizon. However, not much was heard out of the company for a few months following the announcement.
By September 2013, it was clear that the time had come for a complete overhaul. The company finally broke their silence and announced the next generation Simple.TV, dubbed Simple.TV 2. This time around, the device offered dual tuners, allowing a user to watch one show while recording another. It also sported a new look and significantly updated hardware and software (thanks to a new partnership with Silicondust), along with a host of changes to increase functionality and improve the user experience.
But with the OTA DVR landscape changing (see how Simple.TV 2 stacks up to newer OTA DVRs here) since the release of the original Simple.TV, there was still speculation on how the new model would stack up. TiVo released their Roamio, which functioned more like a traditional DVR. And the Tablo DVR came out, which offered a product equal to what Simple.TV was trying to do.
As reviews began to trickle out, the response was mixed. Wired called it “Almost the Best Over-the-Air DVR. Almost.” Others complained about fan noise and lack of wi-fi connection, both issues that Tablo didn’t have.
Customer Service Complaints
As time went on, customers experienced more performance issues. Common complaints included having to reboot repeatedly and weak tuners. However, the performance issues weren’t the worst of it. The real problem continues to be the perceived lack of customer support. Here’s a typical customer review found on its Amazon page:
The same customer offered an unsettling update to their customer service issues:
The company’s Facebook account took just as much flack:
Then in January of 2015, disaster struck. System maintenance resulted in a corrupt server. This led to users’ recordings being deleted. In some cases, newer users attempted to log in only to find their account had been deleted. Talk about adding insult to injury.
The crash seemed to be the final blow to a company that already appeared to be reeling. Social media accounts fell silent. Users reported unanswered email after unanswered email.
Finally, on February 6th, they spoke out on their Twitter account.
— Simple.TV (@simpletv) February 7, 2015
Oddly, this was the very last tweet they sent out. As of writing this article, there have been no more tweets. Their Facebook page has also remained silent. Company representatives have been absent from the Simple.TV forums as well, as evidenced by comments like the one below.
I also went to the Better Business Bureau’s website to see if there were any recent customer complaints with subsequent rebuttals from the company. Here’s the most recent that I found:
Did Simple.TV Recently Receive Funding?
All signs seemingly point to things going badly for Simple.TV. Except, then I fell across a link to this on Twitter…
This amount nearly matches their original funding back in 2013. If they were in fact shutting things down, why in the world would a report come out saying they received $5 million in funding in March? Keep in mind, this comes a full month since anyone seems to have heard from Simple.TV via social media, forums, or email.
Granted, I’ve not been able to find any further information on this funding. No reports. No commentary. No discussion. Nothing. Nor do I know where Owler pulls their information from. But the site seems legit.
Trying to Get in Touch with Simple.TV
After performing my due diligence, I decided it was time to go straight to the horse’s mouth. Try as I might, I couldn’t find a phone number. However, I did find an email address in their “About Us” page. So I shot them a message and got an almost immediate reply. Here’s the response I got when I emailed the address:
Another red flag, right? Or maybe not. Maybe they just reconfigured how they like to receive emails. Regardless, at the very least this is a minor annoyance in my first attempt to contact the company, which sounds similar to what some people have been complaining about online.
Anyway, the link in the email takes you to a fillable form on a customer service page. I filled out the form with the same text from the original email and sent it off. I also sent the same email to their press email address in an attempt to make sure I exhaust all potential avenues.
Simple.TV CEO Breaks the Silence
I’ll be honest–I kind of assumed I wouldn’t get a response, just like all of the complaints I’ve read. But I was wrong. In fact, I got a response the same day. And not just any response…I got a response from Mark Ely, the company’s founder and CEO. The email can be seen below.
It was really cool of him to personally respond. He acknowledged that they’ve had issues, and reassured me that they were working on their infrastructure. Presumably that means customer service will improve and catastrophic events like January’s crash will be nothing but distant memories.
But perhaps the most interesting thing about the email is his mention of the future focus of “new cloud-based technologies that will wind up in future products.” This shows that Simple.TV is alive and kicking…and not just that, but they are looking forward to a potentially brighter future. It also coincides with the report that they recently received $5 million in funding.
Remember, the last time they received such funding, they followed up with the announcment of Simple.TV 2 a few months later. Could this mean that the rumored Simple.TV 3 is on the horizon? And if so, how might it incorporate cloud-based technology?
Simple.TV Hasn’t Given Up
It seems the takeaway here is that, regardless of the lengthy silence from Simple.TV, they aren’t down for the count. It’s clear that they are busy working on something new, and it looks like they’ve received the funding to bring their vision (whatever it may be) to fruition.
The question is, will the next product release be big enough to erase the bad memories so many customers now have?
Update: New Simple.TV Device on the Horizon
Recently, I found this blog post buried in Twitter. The article has some broken quotes from Mark Ely that seem to suggest that he’s unveiling a next generation Simple.TV that utilizes cloud-based storage. However, the article is ambiguous as to whether or not the writer talked to Mark, much less when the conversation occurred. That said, I’m not certain as to the validity of the statements. I did reach out to Simple.TV today in hopes of confirming the statements, and here’s what Mark had to say about the post:
So it seems clear to me that a new device is coming soon, and we can expect cloud storage. The only thing he seemed to shy away from was the idea of four tuners. With an overhaul of the system, can we expect the next generation of Simple.TV to surpass its current OTA DVR peers? Time will tell…