TiVo: MICHAEL RAMSAY/Alviso, Calif.

MICHAEL RAMSAY/Alviso, Calif.

"Are you the devil?" That was the opening zinger posed to panelist Mike Ramsay, CEO of TiVo, as he appeared before a group of TV-ad executives last September. It was the question everyone wanted answered. TiVo's personal video recorders (PVRs) let users download their favorite shows and zip past commercials--and traditional marketers are running scared. By 2007, half of all American TV viewers will own PVRs--and 20% intend to skip ads.

But even if TiVo has been devilishly effective at giving viewers what they want--or eliminating what they don't--the firm has gone through tough times. Last year Ramsay, 53, radically changed...

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