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TiVo Premieres Its “Premiere” Set-Top Box

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TiVo (s TIVO) finally took the wraps off its new set-top box tonight at an event in New York, showing off new hardware and a new software interface that is designed to bring together broadcast and broadband content. In a presentation frequently interrupted by Jack MacBrayer (better known as 30 Rock‘s Kenneth the Page) and capped off with a dance party led by The Jersey Shore‘s Paulie D (I’m not kidding), TiVo CEO Tom Rogers highlighted the need for an easy way to bring together infinite amounts of content in one easy — and fun to use — interface.

In terms of pure hardware, there weren’t a whole lot of surprises. As expected, the company will be rolling out two new set-top boxes, the TiVo Premiere and a TiVo Premiere XL. The Premiere will cost $299 and will hold up to 45 hours of HD video content, while the Premiere XL will be available for $499 and will hold up to 150 hours of HD video.

But the real innovation is happening in the software, where TiVo is seeking to blend broadcast and broadband content into a single, easily searchable user interface. With the amount of content that is available not just on linear TV, but on broadband, Rogers said consumers need an easy way to weed through what is now an infinite amount of content. “The problem is that consumers can’t get all that broadband content to the TV, and even if they could, they couldn’t navigate it,” Rogers said.

In the new user interface, broadcast and broadband content are integrated, so it doesn’t matter whether you’ve recorded something from the TV or downloaded it from the Internet — it all appears in the same menu. Not only can you search by title, but you can also search through TV shows and movie titles by cast members, something Rogers called searching by six degrees of separation. The new TiVo search function also allows you to navigate through multiple collections, some of which are timely — like March Madness or Oscar films — and some of which are timeless, like the AFI Top 100 Movies list.

“People like the idea that there is broadband content available to them on the TV, but that doesn’t make it easy and it doesn’t make it usable,” Rogers said. The goal, he said, is to enable users to “browse, navigate and search, and do it in a way that can guide [consumers] through limited choice.”

What will also help improve the search and discovery experience is a new remote with a built-in sliding QWERTY keyboard. Rather than having users hunt and poke through the interactive program guide, users will now be able to use their thumbs to type out the programs that they’re looking for.

The new Premiere platform also has the possibility of being hugely extensible, due to the introduction of an interface based on Adobe (s ADBE) Flash. As a result, TiVo is counting on the Flash developer community to create new games and Flash-based applications that weren’t previously available on set-top boxes, TiVo or otherwise. As just one example, music streaming application Pandora will soon be integrated into TiVo.

During the presentation, Rogers reasserted the company’s distribution partnerships, including those with Best Buy (s BBY). “Best Buy is a critical partner in bringing to the public this whole new approach to bringing video content to the TV,” Rogers said. Without commenting specifically on the possibility of bringing a Best Buy digital storefront onto the TiVo, Rogers said that the partnership would help Best Buy in filling its strategic need to extend its relationship with the customer beyond the cash register and into the digital realm.

Also in attendance was RCN (s RCNI), which will be making the Premiere its DVR of choice beginning in April. At that point, the cable operator will begin introducing the TiVo Premiere into its regional markets, beginning with Washington, DC. While the monthly price of the TiVo DVR has yet to be determined, a representative for the operator said that it would be sold at a premium to its existing set-top box.

Related GigaOM Pro content: As Millions of Videos Come to TV, How Will We Choose? (subscription required)

20 Responses to “TiVo Premieres Its “Premiere” Set-Top Box”

  1. I think it is a nice move by TIVO as entering this market makes complete sense for it. That said, I still think it is going to take some time for these boxes that are trying to bypass the cable companies and deliver online video to really take hold. The value of what they provide is largely dependent on the content that they are able to offer through the service. While Netflix is clearly a great service to offer, it is not a point of differentiation since Netflix is wisely allowing its service to be integrated across any of these boxes. The social media integrations are also compelling, however, the premium content producers may want to block their content from such services if they determine that there is not a net gain from being part of the service (as Hulu has done).

    If the various set top boxes really want to compete against cable, I think they are going to need to find a way to offer more premium content and that will entail either paying the content producer or at least giving the content producer the ability to charge the end user through their box. Perhaps that is where things are heading as Boxee has already announced the release of their payment platform this summer. Absent compensating the content owners for the content in some way, I think that some of the different set top boxes that deliver IP video will face serious challenges over the long run and cable companies will continue to dominate.

    • “I think it is a nice move by TIVO as entering this market makes complete sense for it.”

      Entering what market? Their content on the new box is the same as the content on the old box. It’s the presentation that has changed.

  2. Unimpressed. TiVo’s got a killer brand and, most importantly, it’s already in a ton of homes. That familiarity gives it huge leverage to create enter the market as THE set-top box for the internet video age. And they haven’t. Now Boxee, Roku, Apple TV, and others all have a legitimate shot instead of an uphill battle.

    The real question, I think, is why TiVo feels like it has to “stay afloat” when, by all standards, they’re doing fine. TiVo should feel like they’ve got an opportunity to keep innovating, trying truly new things and taking risks. Those trying to “stay afloat” today (“Premiere”? Really?) just means losing tomorrow.

    • Ryan Lawler

      Really? You think TiVo’s doing just fine? Over the past year or so they’ve gone from over 3 million subscribers to 2.2 million. At some point, they have to find a way to stop hemorrhaging customers. Is Premiere it?

      • I’m not sure that those numbers are a fair comparison. Almost all of their subscriber losses are coming from DirecTV where they received very little in revenue from them. Stand alone customers have remained loyal and with DirecTV starting up again this year, it won’t take long until the current trend reverses itself again. Focusing on sub count alone doesn’t paint the true picture of what’s happening at TiVo.

      • Plus, how many set-top boxes have even 2.2 million subscribers? Roku is likely in the 100,000s, even Apple TV has significantly under 2 million.

        I’m not arguing TiVo’s doing well, I just think they’ve got a better start to doing better.

  3. It’s not what cable/satellite TV providers “cannot” do with their DVRs, it’s what they “will not” do. Cable/sat companies won’t integrate online content into their DVRs, because they want you to buy more TV channels. Those extra channels lose their luster if you can access Netflix streaming through their DVR and supplement it with Youtube, Vimeo, Revision3, etc.

    TiVo’s gunning for Roku with this deal. If they could attract some sports leagues, too, like Roku did with baseball, they could possibly get back into the game here.

    • Ryan Lawler

      Exactly. The question, though, is how long the big cable companies can hold out on integrating IP-delivered video offerings on their own set-top boxes? Sooner or later they’ll either have to add online services or risk being cannibalized by them.

      • Cable companies can hold out for as long as broadband in this country remains at its current speeds — and guess what? Cable companies are the primary ISPs for most people. Until that changes and everyone gets 100Mbps fiber connections, cable doesn’t have to appease online video providers. That gives the cable networks an advantage over online-only networks.

        I still think sports plays a huge role in this as well, because cutting the cable isn’t really an option for sports fans, unless they’re fans of baseball only and can live with MLB on Roku. ESPN makes $4.3 billion a year from carriage fees, compared to $442 million a year from advertising; creating a new set-top box channel like would lead to a MASSIVE carriage fee fight, and ESPN is giving leagues & colleges too much cash in rights fees to withstand that right now.

        Oh, by the way, Steve Jobs is on the board at Disney, which owns ESPN. You think Steve is going to let ESPN create a channel with Roku or TiVo first?

  4. This what was the “big” surprise? Just what can this thing do that cable TV providers cannot do with their own DVR functions? And what cable cannot do, how long will it be until they can offer such?

    I know TiVo is trying to keep afloat but this hardly seems like that big of a deal. If it is, please explain why it is.