TiVo To Launch IP-Only STB This Summer

TiVo Logo During Thursday’s financial call, TiVo President & CEO Tom Rogers surprised a number of people when he said:“By the end of the summer we’ll further that lead with the addition of an IP-based set top box.”

But this really wasn’t a surprise; it was mentioned before – by TiVo’s Director Product Marketing, Jason Wong. Quoting my earlier post:

He mentions “a couple of thin-client zapper boxes, with or without a tuner”, which is interesting, since the existing TiVo Preview does have a tuner and CableCARD slot. Perhaps TiVo is working on a more Roku-like streaming-only device? He does mention it again later, referring to it as a ‘thin-client’.

Later in the financial call, during the Q&A, Roger’s expanded upon the IP-based STB, saying:

It is a way for multiple sets in a household to be served. It works with a core unit, called a gateway unit, that allows for multiple streams to multiple television sets as part of a whole-home solution. It is something that we will be delivering to a number of operators who are looking for it in the middle of the year, so I’m not going to be precise with respect to which quarter we deliver it in. But it is an important part of our whole-home, multi-device set of solutions. We have a non-DVR set top today that we are deploying for operators who want to make sure that they have a cheaper multi-set solution so that they can have a non-DVR set top working out there, but this is a way to bring down cap-ex expense even further. And ultimately is a complement to the core TiVo unit.

The “current non-DVR set top” would be the TiVo Preview, so this unit is clearly a new box. And the lower cost reflects the removal of the tuner hardware. But note the bit about “deploying for operators”. Like the TiVo Preview, this unit is, initially at least, targeted at TiVo’s MSO customers – not retail.

This is also a product I discussed last Friday with TiVo’s Public Relations Manager, Jessica Loebig, and VP and GM of Product Marketing, Jim Denney, along with the transcoder box. They couldn’t provide too many details on the IP STB, but the gist is that this will be an IP-only, tuner-less streaming box. It is not a retail version of the TiVo Preview, as that unit has a CableCARD tuner. Rather, this would be an even ‘thinner’ thin client, which relies entirely on the network for content. My understanding is that, like the Preview, it would access OTT content directly from the Internet, as well as streaming content from a TiVo Premiere DVR within the home.

Live TV would also utilize a tuner from the central TiVo Premiere, there being no local tuner and all. That’s what I was hinting at in my transcoder box post when I said “As well as for another application that’s coming, but I’ll leave that for another post.”.

If TiVo could deliver this at a low enough price point, I think it could be an interesting entrant into the streaming STB market. TiVo would clearly need to beef up their third party content offerings to compete with the likes of Roku, Google TV, and Boxee, but that’s not out of reach if they promote their new SDK effectively. And TiVo’s MSO market offers a unique attraction for developers looking to address that market. If they offered this unit at retail it could leverage apps developed for the MSO market, and vice-versa.

But first TiVo would have to offer this at retail. I discussed this with Jessica & Jim, and they recognize that there is demand for such a product, and acknowledged that it’d certainly be a perfect companion for the Premiere Elite. But for now TiVo doesn’t have any plans to bring the TiVo Preview to retail. Currently they seem focused on polishing the products in the MSO market, which may not be a bad approach – as frustrating as it may be as a consumer who desperately wants one.

In the MSO market they have the MSO to support the customer and work out any issues. If they can improve the product in the MSO market, when they do finally bring it to retail it should be much more polished. The major concern seems to be the user experience, and potential network issues. MSOs deploying the TiVo Preview are insisting on MoCA or wired Ethernet with minimum performance for the installation. In the retail market you’d be much more likely to have people using iffy network connections – weak wireless or powerline connections, etc. And they’re more likely to blame TiVo if the product doesn’t work well than to recognize a network issue.

Personally I think TiVo could take an approach similar to what they planned for the Premiere Elite. Such as“vigorous customer and retailer education efforts designed to ensure that consumers recognize the capabilities” of the new box, and marketing the streaming box“primarily through its custom install, high-end retail, and TiVo.com channels” where they can better educate the customer on the requirements for successful utilization.

My impression is that TiVo is certainly aware of the retail demand for such a unit, and they’re constantly evaluating it, but they’re not yet ready to launch. But they probably will a little further down the road.

Oh, and going back to the SDK, I asked about that on our call last Friday as well. Right now TiVo doesn’t have much to say other than “stay tuned”, and to confirm that the new SDK environment is Adobe AIR with ActionScript 3.0, but they hint at other environments in the future.

About MegaZone

MegaZone is the Editor of Gizmo Lovers and the chief contributor. He's been online since 1989 and active in several generations of 'social media' - mailing lists, USENet groups, web forums, and since 2003, blogging.    MegaZone has a presence on several social platforms: Google+ / Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn / LiveJournal / Web.    You can also follow Gizmo Lovers on other sites: Blog / Google+ / Facebook / Twitter.
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  • PhiTauBill

    The tuner-less IP box better end up in the consumer channel eventually or this will be very damaging for the considerable goodwill built up by TiVo with early adopters, especially those of us forced to run inferior systems like MCE just b/c of subscription-free access needs on lesser-used TVs.

    • http://www.gizmolovers.com/ MegaZone

      I’m sure the IP STB will hit retail, but it’ll probably hit MSOs first.

      However, as for the goodwill – it doesn’t really matter anymore.  Retail is rapidly shrinking in importance for TiVo.  They now have more MSO subscribers than retail – and the MSO numbers are increasingly rapidly while the retail numbers are still decreasing.  And that’s before deals like ONO and Charter hit stride.  On top of that only 55% of retail subscriptions are paying ongoing fees.

      Retail numbers will hopefully benefit from the Comcast VOD deal as Comcast will be promoting TiVo and installing them for free on request, and the units will use the retail SKU, but that’s really more of a unique MSO/retail hybrid.  Given the numbers Virgin Media alone plans to generate over the next few years, retail would have to increase 4-5x just to match them – and then you have all the other MSOs.

      For better or for worse it seems clear that retail is of decrease importance to TiVo’s business and any negative impact there is therefore also less important over time.  I don’t think TiVo is going to ditch retail any time soon, especially with the Comcast deal, since retail is the one market where they have complete control.  It is something of a marketing tool for them: “Look at what we can do.”  But product development will focus on the MSOs first, then retail – which we’ve already seen with the Premiere Elite, first launched as the Q for MSOs, and the Preview, MSO-only.

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