TiVo: Friend or foe?

CHICAGO--The most telling moment of TiVo president and CEO Tom Rogers' keynote stage interview at Supercomm 2009 occurred before the questions from interviewer Carol Wilson (then of Telephony, now of Light Reading) even began. It appeared that roughly half the audience of 500 or more people who had been in attendance at the earlier keynote presentations decided it was a good time to leave the room.

Barring the possibility that everyone needed a bathroom break at the same time, perhaps the keynote attendees didn't feel they needed to hear what Rogers had to say. They may have been right. Rogers talked about the traditional TiVo model quite a bit, and how it supports new forms of advertising. He also was very clear that TiVo wants to partner with telcos, though after that declaration, he was pretty vague about how that might work. Rogers never did directly answer Wilson's questions about how a TiVo-telco partnership business model would work and how telcos can make money from partnering with TiVo--though it was not for lack of talking.

TiVo does have at least one significant telco partnership, with independent telco Windstream Communications, but reports surfaced last December that Windstream was having trouble reselling TiVo boxes and service. If there's a new idea about how to get those customers interested, we did not hear about it this morning.

Rogers did say that telcos needed to embrace the idea of TV no longer being linear, which is true of several of them (and perhaps some who most needed to hear that had already written him off and left the room, and instead should have stayed). However, a number of telcos--Verizon Communications, AT&T, SureWest Communications, to name a few--actually have done that already, given that they already offer TiVo-like services and other interactive features. (In the case of Verizon and AT&T, their service are so TiVo-like that TiVo is suing them.) Telcos know how to do DVR; what they may not know is why they should partner with TiVo over someone else, and what they have to gain.

TiVo is the pioneer of the DVR segment, and has successfully wedged itself into having a strong front end experience with consumers. Telcos can gain from that established reputation and position, but it also may seem a bit threatening to cable TV players and telcos alike who themselves want to be more customer-facing. The service providers also may pursue network-based DVR offerings that bypass TiVo.

At one point during Rogers' time on stage, he smirked (the giant video screen in back of him emphasized this smirk) as he mentioned that he misses hanging around with a telecom technology crowd--Rogers was once a Congressional counsel on telecom matters, is former chairman of Teleglobe and also ran the company for a time that owned Telephony magazine. "Those guys are a lot of fun," he said. But, the smirk made for a strained moment, which is exactly the stage at which the relationship between TiVo and telcos still stands. -Dan

Full disclosure: I used to work for Telephony during the time when Rogers was CEO of its parent company, Primedia. I have no reson for personal animosity against him, as those were some of the best years of my career. I also own a TiVo box, which doesn't suffer from lack of attention in my household.

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