A View from David Talbot
TiVo’s Latest Iteration Preserves TV’s Status Quo
As TiVo tries for a second act — streaming everything you subscribe to — content providers are calling the shots.
TiVo was an early disruptor of conventional television-watching. In 1999 it launched a black box that stored shows on hard-disk – the digital video recorder or DVR – making it famously easy (compared to VCRs) for people to record lots of shows and skip through ads when watching them. But as other set-top boxes got better, and cloud-based streaming services arose, TiVo customers plunged from a 2007 high of 4.4 million customers, to less than half that today.
TiVo now says it’s back to remake the business by streaming video from the TiVo DVR in your home to any almost any device, almost anywhere you might travel. Depending what service you already subsribe to, the new TiVo DVR, called “Roamio,” streams content from 13 cable providers plus Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Pandora, Spotify, and YouTube. (TiVo had earlier offered a way to send such content within your house, to your iPad or other device.) Tom Rogers, TiVo’s President and CEO, said in a statement today that Roamio was like “every box or device out there - Roku, Apple TV, Slingbox, Google TV, your standard cable box - all rolled into one.” (An asterisk on their service description reads: “Due to content provider restrictions, not all content can be streamed out of home and some content may only be streamed while a mobile device is on the same local network as the subscriber’s DVR.”)
But whereas the original TiVo gadget liberated you from something – the chains of TV advertising – the new TiVo doesn’t liberate you from very much. Certainly not the cost of cable service. There are some truly disruptive services out there, such as Aereo (see “Aereo’s Achilles’ Heel: Delivering Real-Time TV”) which captures over-the-air broadcasts on tiny antennas in their datacenters and streams over the Internet to your home for just $8/month. TiVo’s new service will surely be useful and a good value to some people. But given the exploding range of options for people to subscribe to and stream content, it’s also a means for incumbent cable companies and content providers to retain their grip on the status quo in a fast-changing TV marketplace.