When TiVo settled their long-running patent lawsuit against DISH Network and EchoStar for $500 million back in May it did more than just settle the one suit. It also strengthened TiVo’s hand when dealing with other vendors it feels are infringing on its patents. Way back in August, 2009, while the EchoStar/DISH Network suit was still raging on, TiVo filed suit against Verizon and AT&T as well. Perhaps after seeing TiVo emerge victorious time and time again during their extended clash with DISH, and surviving repeated patent reviews, AT&T decided discretion was the better part of valor.
AT&T has settled with TiVo, offering payments that will total at least $215 million, and potentially much more, in exchange for a mutual patent licensing deal. TiVo will receive $51 million up front, followed by recurring quarterly payments guaranteed through June 2018, for a total minimum payment of $215 million. In addition to these minimum payments, AT&T will pay recurring per-subscriber monthly license fees should the level of U-Verse subscribers exceed“certain levels”. Just what those levels are wasn’t revealed in the press release, but TiVo apparently expects the total payments to“significantly exceed” the minimums. In this case what’s good for AT&T is good for TiVo – the more subscribers they get, the more TiVo makes.
The Form 8-K TiVo filed with the SEC regarding this settlement reveals more of the details about the payments as well as the patents involved:
Under the Agreement, AT&T has agreed to pay TiVo a minimum amount of $215,000,000 (the “Payment to TiVo”) plus incremental monthly fees per DVR subscriber if the growth of AT&T’s subscriber base exceeds certain pre-determined levels. Based on currently available industry forecasts, TiVo expects that the total fees payable to it by AT&T under the Agreement will significantly exceed the guaranteed minimum Payment to TiVo. The first $51,000,000 of the Payment to TiVo is due on January 3, 2012 and the remaining amount is due to TiVo in equal installments 30 days after the end of each calendar quarter in the amount of $5 million for the first four calendar quarters and approximately $6.5 million in subsequent calendar quarters through the calendar quarter ending June 30, 2018. Any incremental additional per subscriber fees are due to TiVo on the same schedule.
Pursuant to the Agreement, TiVo granted AT&T a limited license under its advanced television patents, including the patents that TiVo had asserted against AT&T (U.S. Patent Nos. 6,233,389, 7,493,015 and 7,529,465), to make, have made, use, sell, offer to sell and import advanced television technology in connection with AT&T multichannel video programming services, including AT&T U-verse, subject to certain limitations and exclusions. AT&T granted TiVo a limited license under its advanced television patents, including the patents that AT&T had asserted against TiVo (U.S. Patent Nos. 5,809,492, 5,922,045, 6,118,976 and 6,983,478), to make, have made, use, sell, offer to sell and import advanced television technology in connection with TiVo products and services, including products and services provided to other multichannel video programming service providers, subject to certain limitations and exclusions.
We may learn more about the terms when TiVo files their Form 10-K after their fiscal year ends on January 31, 2012.
In addition to the settlement payments there is also the indirect benefit to TiVo in reducing their legal costs by no longer needing to pursue the suit. It also eliminates the distraction and allows their legal team to focus their efforts on Verizon. Speaking of Verizon, that’s where all eyes are now as they’re currently the sole remaining target for TiVo’s patent suits. With victories against EchoStar/DISH and now AT&T, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect Verizon to taking a serious look at their chances of victory and weighing it against the cost of a settlement. I fully expect TiVo to also be making a reinvigorated push to establish deals with the remaining US cable providers, such as Time Warner Cable, Cablevision, and Bright House Networks.
Taking a look at the top 10 US MVPDs (as of June 2011):
- Comcast Corporation 22,525,000 – business relationship to allow VOD access to retail TiVo units, now in trials
- DirecTV 19,433,000 – business relationship with licensing and new THR-22 DirecTiVo just released
- Dish Network Corporation 14,056,000 – $500 million legal settlement and licensing
- Time Warner Cable, Inc. 12,235,000 – no known agreement or licensing
- Cox Communications, Inc. 4,838,000 – business relationship to allow VOD access to retail TiVo units, in development
- Charter Communications, Inc. 4,413,000 – distributes TiVo directly to customers
- Verizon Communications, Inc. 3,848,000 – ongoing patent lawsuit
- AT&T, Inc. 3,407,000 – $215 million legal settlement and licensing
- Cablevision Systems Corporation 3,284,000 – no known agreement or licensing
- Bright House Networks LLC 2,139,000 – no known agreement or licensing
In addition, of course, TiVo is being distributed to customers of smaller cable MSOs Suddenlink (#11), RCN (#16), and Grande Communications (not in the top 25). Each victory, licensing deal, or business arrangement strengthens TiVo’s hand at the negotiating table. TWC, like Comcast, is large enough that they develop a lot of their technology and software in house. As such I don’t really expect them to adopt TiVo as their new platform, as Charter has. However, I would not be surprised to see them make a deal with TiVo to support VOD on retail TiVo units, just as Comcast and Cox have, in exchange for staying out of the legal crosshairs.
Verizon is more of a wildcard. They have a rocky track record when it comes to developing and releasing software updates for their FiOS STBs. And they have a small enough user base that outsourcing their software development to TiVo and benefiting from their economies of scale might benefit them. Their architecture is not all that different from Virgin Media in the UK and ONO in Spain. TiVo has already shown they can handle a hybrid cable/IPTV system with those networks, which is what FiOS is. To me that would be the ideal solution, as FiOS joining Team TiVo would increase development funding. And it is likely that they’d push the addition of features to match what they’ve implemented in house, which would benefit everyone. But they may also simply negotiate a licensing settlement like AT&T’s.
AT&T is pure IPTV and they’re using Microsoft software end-to-end. It was pretty much an impossibility that they’d adopt TiVo’s software for their STBs given the infrastructure they’re using. The licensing settlement is really the best result we could hope for in this case. Cablevision and Bright House could easily adopt TiVo as their next-generation STB platform. They’re smaller than Charter, who already has, and Suddenlink, also a TiVo user, is more than half as large as Bright House.
Oh, there is another reason I think TiVo will move more aggressively to establish deals with more MSOs on the back of this settlement: Google. More specifically Google’s pending acquisition of Motorola, the largest STB vendor for cable systems in the US, and Google TV. Back in August when I looked at the announcement, and specifically at the implications for TiVo, and then more recently in November, I stated that I full expect Google to bring the Google TV platform to Motorola STBs as a standard option.
More and more MSOs are looking at OTT (over-the-top) content to increase their competitiveness, which is a prime reason MSOs have turned to TiVo, and Google TV’s Android platform and apps would be a huge boon. Google has Sage TV to provide DVR technology and placeshifting, which also allows them to compete with EchoStar’s SlingLoaded offerings. They could build the streaming client into every Android phone and tablet sold, as well as Google+, that’s a very big stick – or carrot, depending on how you look at it. If Google’s acquisition of Motorola goes through, they will do this. I’m certain of it; it just makes too much sense.
But it will all take time, most likely a few years. The acquisition itself will take time. And then the work to port Google TV to Motorola HW and/or developing new HW to better support Google TV/Android needs to be done. Then they need to land MSO clients for the new HW/SW bundle, and get it deployed. It all takes time. And that time gives TiVo a window to expand their beachhead in the industry. Once an MSO has a significant deployment of TiVo HW and/or SW in the field they’re much less likely to walk away from that investment and adopt another platform.
I expect TiVo to redouble their efforts on the back of this victory. They may even have some deals in their back pocket to announce at CES this month. But for now they can celebrate one victory in an ongoing war.