TiVo Remakes DVR With New Interface, Features

"Premiere" box offers unified search, easier access to broadband content
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Digital
video recorder (DVR) hardware and software vendor TiVo has overhauled its core
hardware product with a new user interface designed specifically for widescreen
HDTV sets, better search capability across a mix of linear, recorded and
broadband content, and direct integration of Adobe's widely used Flash
software.

The
new $300 "TiVo Premiere" box goes on sale Mar. 3, and will begin shipping next
month. It will also be rolled out this spring on a leased basis by cable
operator RCN, which announced a deal with TiVo last August
and says that based on field tests TiVo will be its primary DVR going forward.

The
Premiere box provides access to premium cable programming using CableCard
conditional access, but does not support satellite services; TiVo is expected
to deploy a new DVR with DirecTV later this year.

The
goal behind the broadband-enabled Premiere, says TiVo CEO Tom Rogers, is to
create one box and one interface that lets viewers watch broadcast or cable
programming, on-demand movies and Web video, as well as listen to music.

"It's
one box for all those purposes, and it's all usable off of one remote," says
Rogers.

The
new interface with Premiere, which was built with Adobe's Flash software, is
designed specifically to take advantage of the size and scale of large HDTV
sets and features improved graphics as well as a lot more information on one
screen. It includes a customizable "discovery bar" showing poster art of
several shows along the top, alongside a picture-in-picture video window of
what's currently playing. Below that is a central search tool for browsing live
TV, recorded shows, music (including Pandora Internet radio) and photos. Direct
links to online movie services from Blockbuster, Netflix and Amazon are located
in the bottom right.

While
broadband-enabled TiVo boxes have provided access to online content for several
years, the goal with the Premiere interface is to make the content easier to
find from the home screen.

"People
don't want to go too many screens deep," says Rogers.

The
improved search feature with Premiere provides unified search across a mix of
television and broadband content, with the ability to search based on a title
or an actor. It displays all the sources where a consumer can find a particular
show, including linear TV, on-demand and Web streams. It offers a range of
filters that can group shows or movies into different categories, such as Emmy
Award Winners, Academy Award Winners, or Most Popular.

The
search tool also lets a consumer find and view Web content related to a show,
such a bonus clip of 30 Rock content
that is streamed by YouTube, and explore associations between actors and shows
by viewing cast lists and actors' resume (a feature TiVo calls ‘Six Degrees of
Separation').

"We've
tried to make the process of finding, searching, browsing and discovering as
much fun as watching TV itself," says Rogers.

Rogers
says that the new search tool will also be able to incorporate "a whole bunch
of advertising solutions," though he wouldn't comment whether paid search was
one of those options.

"There
are a lot of ways to make use of all that real estate for advertisers," he
says.

The
base Premiere model has 320 GB of storage, enough for 400 hours of standard-def
programming or 45 hours of HD. A Premiere XL model, selling for $500, will
provide a full terabyte of storage, enough for 1350 hours of SD or 150 hours of
HD. Storage can be boosted further by plugging in an external E-SATA drive.
Monthly pricing for the TiVo service remains $12.95. RCN is expected to charge
a premium of $3-5 a month for the TiVo DVR compared to existing Motorola DVR
boxes.
"It will be our DVR of choice," says RCN Executive VP and CFO Michael Sicoli. "If you have RCN Internet, then we're going to be selling you a TiVo DVR."

RCN's average lease price for a Motorola DVR is around $15, says Sicoli. While he won't give a detailed price for what a TiVo DVR would cost per month, he says that a $19.95 monthly fee was feasible. About a quarter of RCN's 600,000 subs currently have DVRs, and RCN will focus on marketing TiVo to customers who don't yet have one. High-value triple-play customers who request the TiVo unit to replace an existing Motorola box will get one where feasible, he adds.

RCN originally selected TiVo for its superior user interface and ability to integrate broadband content, and field trials have borne that out, says Jason Nealis, senior director of video product for RCN. A particular improvement is access to RCN's VOD content compared to the operator's current Aptiv guide.

"It's so much better I can't even explain it," says Nealis.

While RCN likes TiVo's ability to provide access to online content, it is still figuring out how much access, if any, subscribers with the Premiere box will have to services like Blockbuster and Amazon Video On Demand. That is because those online pay-per-view movie systems would be directly competitive with RCN's VOD offerings.

"If we can work out a deal with Amazon that makes us indifferent, then we'll do it," says Sicoli.

On the other hand, RCN views the Netflix streaming service, which is available through a monthly subscription and features older movie titles, as less of a threat and more as a value-added feature to RCN's services. At a high level, says Sicoli, providing online content through a cable box can only help cable win the battle against over-the-top broadband video services delivered to a PC.

"The reason I'm okay with this is it keeps people watching TV," he says. "If they go to the PC, that doesn't help anybody."

Another
new feature in Premiere is an on-screen disk space meter that shows how much
room is left to record on a percentage basis. That was a strong request from
customers, says Jim Denney, TiVo VP of Product Marketing, as was a built-in
30-second scan feature that makes it easy to fast-forward through programming
or commercials.

"You
can tee up several of these to skip a couple minutes a time," says Denney.

TiVo
is also introducing several DVR accessories. They include a higher-speed
Wireless N adapter for home networking applications that will be available in
May, and a new remote control with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard that should
appeal to smartphone and PDA users who don't mind typing in search terms.

"There
are a lot of people who don't want to use a keyboard," Rogers acknowledges.
"But there are also a lot of people who do."

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