TiVo, the digital hub, powered by Strangeberry?

TiVo is finally getting its digital hub act together. The purchase of Strangeberry is yet another proof that it is going to be competing with the likes of Microsoft in the digital hub sweepstakes. While most of its conjecture, some nuggets gathered during course of reporting tell me that this is the direction TiVo might be headed in.

ANALYSIS: For past few days the PVR universe has been hubbub about TiVo’s acquisition of a little known company called Strangeberry. I have refrained from posting anything about this for a couple of days because first, I was busy with work, and secondly I had to go through my old emails to dig-up some juicy nuggets about the company.

Strangeberry had caught my attention, thanks to a tip off from a venture capitalist who at the time was in the know about Marimba, a software company known more for their chief executive than their products. Nevertheless for JavaHeads this was big news. I did some follow-up reporting but nothing came off it, and since at that time Red Herring was going through some shaky times, it fell through and was forgotten. Anyway since then nothing much has been reported on this company, and TiVo’s SEC filing does not say much either.

On January 12, 2004 we acquired Strangeberry Inc., a small Palo Alto based technology company specializing in using home network and broadband technologies to create new entertainment experiences on television. Strangeberry has created technology, based on industry standards and including a collection of protocols and tools, designed to enable the development of new broadband-based content delivery services. In exchange for all of the issued and outstanding capital stock of Strangeberry, we issued shares of TiVo common stock to the stockholders of Strangeberry in a private placement. We have agreed to file a registration statement on Form S-3 to cover the resale of these shares by the Strangeberry stockholders.

So what are they really building? My best guess is that Strangeberry crew, all former Sun folks, developed a piece of software that actually makes finding devices on the home networks as easy as turning on the power switch. And it is using some variant of Apple’s Rendezvous technology. I remember these guys had released some variation of Rendezvous for Java in the early days of their operation. Rendezvous is a technology which can and does work with all sort of networks – Wi-Fi, Ethernet or powerline networks.

Now, at the 2003 edition of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, a colleague of mine saw them talking to folks from companies like Philips and Sony. Add the two together, to me its seems that Strangeberry folks were developing an application for home networks–something that can detect all of the devices on the network and interact between them, maybe something that would let you control your Internet home gateway, PC, TV, stereo, etc. from one remote control device. Of course since more and more companies are supporting the high speed Wi-Fi networks and some are even contemplating streaming video wirelessly using the super speeds offered by 802.11g implementations, it does not seem that far fetched that Strangeberry came up with this killer app.

I am still trying to get more details on this, but if this is the case then TiVo could easily become a big player in the digital hub business. First of all it does not have the heavy footprint of Windows Media Player. This distinguishes the company from many PVR clones out there, and also provider higher value to its partners such as Sony, Toshiba and Phillips. I think this would be a killer and unique selling point for TiVo which has seen its innovation of PVR get commoditized.

More proof at the bottom of the San Jose Business Journal article?

Two weeks ago at CES, TiVo announced new development partnerships with digital photo and music companies XM Satellite Radio, Adobe, MoodLogic and Picasa that it said will expand the features and capabilities of the TiVo service.

In a press release, TiVo CEO said:

“DVR was just the beginning for TiVo… we’re committed to extending the TiVo experience to a host of new and exciting, yet very easy to use, services for our subscribers. Strangeberry shares this vision and can help us accelerate innovation for the TiVo service through our own engineering initiatives, and through our expanding third party developer program, to build new products and services for the TiVo platform,” said Michael Ramsay, CEO of TiVo.

TiVo at present can save video and playback video easily. It can easily take music stream from your computer and play-it back through your music system. (I personally would buy TiVo over some standalone MP3 streaming device – it is a great two for price of one deal, which somehow does not get enough attention.) And now if Strangeberry can provide easy control and management through TiVo, you are talking big dollars.

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