TiVo, Meet Hulu: Are DVRs Still Relevant?

TiVo is hurting. That’s the gist of a story today from Multichannel News about the fate of TiVo (s TIVO), which lost 314,000 subscribers last quarter. All in all, the DVR maker is now down to 2.7 million subscribers. That’s 62 percent less than during its heyday in 2006.

TiVo’s recipe for recovery includes building alliances with cable and satellite providers — the very companies that commoditized DVRs by replacing TiVo’s expensive hardware with cheap, generic recorders. The company now hopes to gain ground by recasting itself as a type of Google (s GOOG) for traditional TV programming and online video. The question is: Will cable companies and consumers bite?

Let me start off with a quick anecdote. I moved from Los Angeles to the San Francisco Bay Area this summer, and somewhere during that move, my TiVo remote got lost. Now, if you don’t own a TiVo, you may not know this, but you can’t do anything with it without a remote. I’m a lifetime  subscriber, so not using my TiVo didn’t cost me anything. Still, initially I was pretty irritated. But then I started to rely 100 percent on Hulu for my shows, and it has since replaced my DVR.

I guess this isn’t really representative of how people are watching TV, especially given the fact that bringing Hulu to the big screen still remains a hurdle. Still, I had to think about my lost remote when I read today’s Multichannel News story. Writer Todd Spangler is chronicling how TiVo has been courting cable companies like RCN (s RCNI) and the UK’s Virgin Media by telling them it can offer more than just a DVR. TiVo wants to be a Google for video, offering the ability ”to search and discover video content across TV, VOD and the Internet.”

Apparently that pitch helped seal the deal with Virgin and RCN, but you gotta wonder if that’s enough to save TiVo. Manufacturers of cheaper cable and satellite DVRs have already begun to embrace Internet video as well. Makers of Internet-connected TVs and devices like the upcoming Boxee box, on the other hand, are betting on the fact that you don’t need DVR functionality to watch online video, and consumers are certainly not shy about using the Net as a sort of TiVo in the cloud, clocking hundreds of millions of views each month on Hulu.com alone.

Still, TiVo hasn’t completely given up on the consumer market. The company struck an alliance with Best Buy (s BBY) earlier this year which will bring us devices “that will be integrated with Best Buy’s digital content offerings,” Multichannel News reminds us. In other words: We’re gonna have a Best Buy-branded TiVo with music from Napster and movie downloads from CinemaNow. But is that really enough to convince anyone to spend not only money on the device, but also $12.95 per month of service, especially since all of the premium online content comes with additional costs?

What is your take? Are you looking forward to TiVo expanding its online reach? Are you happy with your cable DVR? Or are you, like me, replacing DVR time-shifting with online on-demand programming? Let us know in the comments.