Smart TV is TiVo’s Endgame

Now that the Xperi merger has closed, TiVo’s 6th CEO in 5 years has weighed in on the future of the consumer business. And, while it was clear the (former) company had pinned its hopes on the TiVo Stream 4K, we now know that the Android TV streaming dongle is merely the first salvo in a three year battle as TiVo attempts to claw its way into the crowded connected TV market (and is content with a clean break from the legacy DVR platform). But can they successfully replicate the Roku playbook?

The second phase of this footprint expansion will come from the launch of Stream as an embedded search and discovery application for smart TVs expected to arrive in Products in late 2021 or early 2022. In the third phase, we will deliver Stream as a comprehensive smart TV platform connecting content from all sources and leveraging our search and discovery and monetization tools to fully exploit the TiVo content experience. This is one of the merger-related revenue synergies we are most excited about as we unite the TiVo Stream product with Xperi’s very strong OEM relationships and TV footprint.

Few probably realize this won’t be TiVo’s first foray into Smart TV (assuming they don’t pull the plug, or spin off the business, and successfully sign partners). Way, way back in 2011, Best Buy launched a TiVo television under their Insignia brand… that didn’t sell. As with the TiVo Stream platform, there were no native DVR capabilities. In fact, the packaging featured a big, red disclaimer “DVR NOT INCLUDED.” Beyond the requisite TiVo interface and a smattering of their own apps augmenting the Chumby platform (!?), the basic sales pitch seems to remain the same in collocating all our entertainment — but this time they mean it, within the content-unifying TiVo Stream experience. We’ll see.

32 thoughts on “Smart TV is TiVo’s Endgame”

  1. Last thing I want is a smart TV. I use precisely nothing on my Samsung TV (ours has Netflix, etc, and we use all that on our Apple TV’s).

    Dave, follow all your posts but haven’t kept a record, sorry! What were you using for the best replacement for TiVo’s in general if we wanted to wholesale replace everything? Seems like we will need to at some point. We have a Premier with Fios cablecard and 3 Wired Minis. Thanks much!

  2. Well with Google directly entering the same convergence of TV sources directly in the Android TV platform, Tivo is now going to try to compete with the very platform they are running on. Unless the end game is for Xperi to be purchased by Google, not sure where this can lead.

  3. James, yeah makes you wonder. Maybe they’re hoping to get enough scale to run Android guts like the Amazon Fire TV platform to work their own content:app deals. Or perhaps Google will work with them to suppress some of the Android TV stuff, as is done on the operator tier.

    Leo, I’m using Channels DVR. An NVIDIA SHIELD PRO is both the DVR server and a client. A used HDHomeRun Prime with CableCARD is the source of most television content. But there are many ways to slice and dice this.

  4. Dumb, Dumb, Dumb. They want to compete where there is too much competition, instead of leveraging their strength in a market segment where there is none. I get that cutting the cord is real, but there are also plenty who still have to rely on cable and want no part of the garbage put out by their provider. Some of us like to record instead of stream. Channels DVR is ok, I run an instance of it, but I still prefer to pick up the Tivo remote. I guess I will wait for the inevitable fire sale on their boxes…

  5. Rob: I use Channels DVR and love it a lot over TiVo, for a myriad of reasons. I also use the TiVo remote though, with my AppleTV, as the AppleTV has a built-in feature that lets it learn IR commands. Best of both worlds!

  6. Rick, TiVo continues to support cable/fiber television operators around the world – both legacy solutions and cloud DVR, like the Android TV set-top RCN recently launched. On the flip side, one US operator I know has some of the same complaints about TiVo’s DVR timelines and issues many of us do … and they’re working on an exit strategy. Again, we’ll see if Xperi decides to spin any of this out at some point.

  7. James, it’s linked in the article where the CEO “weighed in” – from Xperi’s first quarterly call, post-merger/acquisition.

    Rick, Joel W is still running his. There are services to be leveraged. If you care enough. I don’t. :)

  8. We’re still paying $200+/mo for Comcast quad play with gigabit internet, HD TV, landline and home security.

    My mother just moved into an assisted living place and I was floored to find out that Comcast wanted $150/mo just to get her set up with TV only (with HD, local channels, sports, and HBO). No internet or phone, no DVR. To make matters worse the box kept crapping out and she had little functional service the first two weeks.

    I would gladly have just set her up with some streaming dongle but she wants a TV experience, not apps. I also failed to get her to use streaming apps on her iPad as they were too confusing for her; having dozens of per-network apps is a disaster, and Covid prevented me from being able to even try to show her how to use them.

    Given the overall cost of being in an A/L facility, the $150/mo for cable is not significant. But like I told the guy at the Comcast store: as old people who insist on TV the old way start to die off, they’re in for a huge awakening when younger people (like our kids who watch everything on their phones) refuse to replace their grandparents as residential cable customers.

    I’ve said it before (even here on ZNF, I believe)… it’s too bad TiVo didn’t facilitate a simple transition from Cable to OTT streaming for TiVo customers. It would have been great to wake up one day and know that all my content was now available without a cable subscription, with the exact same unified TiVo interface and billing. Maybe that’s where they’re trying to go with the streaming dongle but it’s all so confusing to figure out (and in turn explain to an aging relative who only knows channels by their three digit number in another town’s cable system).

    Still feels like there’s a huge opportunity for someone to solve this mess but I haven’t been impressed with anything I’ve seen so far.

  9. Oh Vey, Dave! I just noticed there are now ads running above the Apps buttons on my TiVo Stream 4K.

    I have done everything I could to eliminate Sling, TiVo-plus, etc., from the device, so I’ve basically had a nice Android box. Until NOW. Now I’ve got ads running that I can’t begin to figure out how to stop. And they are at the top level, so you can’t avoid them.

    Decided it was best to write to you, first, since I’ve never noticed this until just today AND you are the best person to broadcast this bad news. Maybe somebody’s got a remedy for it. I’m not very adept, but I can follow How-to instructions if you can link me to them. Haven’t looked at the tivo community website yet….

    Meanwhile, all best. Looks like TiVo’s going out of its way to go away.

    Steve

  10. Running 2 Tivo Bolts.
    From my experience the TIVO user interface is so much better than comcast or direct tv. I have TIVO for the DVR and BECAUSE of its user interface. I miss the TIVO preimer what would let me have both Cable and OTA channel at the same time.

  11. HDHR Quattro with Plex for OTA. I love my newest Bolt and my old OTA TiVo, but until TiVo listens to the user community and offers a streaming experience that includes the ability to access what we’ve collected on the hardware devices that started their company, I’m disinterested. I tried the Stream 4k and it’s “just another dongle”. Use it purely for the Android experience on an old TV, if nothing else.

    Hope they provide the Roku/Android/whateverplatform app with DVR connectivity, otherwise I feel they’re far too late to the game.

  12. I really don’t understand their strategy. I understand that DVRs are going away, and TiVo likely can’t survive on DVRs alone, but the DVR is the one advantage that TiVo has over any other streaming device.

    Personally, I don’t think they should have killed their streaming apps for Apple TV/Roku/Android TV, and the Stream 4k should have been a TiVo Mini replacement.

    Either option would help bridge the gap from DVR to streaming. Legacy DVR customers would like to the TiVo device or app, plus either option would turn any TiVo DVR into a Tablo competitor.

    If their interface was good, people would continue using it even after the DVR portion goes away. As it is now, I will completely skip TiVo’s streaming efforts. There are just too many better alternatives.

  13. The gap in the market is the all-in-one DVR. I would to purchase a DVR which do both cable and OTA simultaneously. This would allow me to tailor my cable package to exclude OTA access, while continuing to justify the cable provider for premium content.
    All of the DVR seem to provide either an OTA+streaming or a cable+streaming.
    Seems OTA plus cable plus streaming wouldn’t be that difficult.

  14. I saw one poster mention Channels DVR – anyone use anything else? I’ve got a Tivo Bolt – and don’t generally stream alot – looking for mostly live tv (sports) and maybe schedule some TV shows to record.

    Thanks.

  15. Curious if ReelGood is not seeing what TiVo is doing here when their app is light years ahead of Tivo on AndroidTV at least. And it just seems foolish for TiVo to ignore their successful interface on their DVRs even if that is a fading business. They should be able to create a recast/tablo type DVR to work with the Stream 4k device or this future TiVo television platform.

  16. John, Channels is probably the best DVR out there right now. A number of us have migrated, including tech luminaries such as Harry McCracken. It requires a little tech knowhow and upfront planning, but after that it’s smooth sailing and a superior experience. Several ways to implement, with content HDHomeRun hardware or TV Everywhere accounts or Locast or combination of all and powered by NAS, pi, computer, or NVIDIA SHIELD.

    Mark, Rovi leadership killed the TiVo Mavrik when they took over. That was their Tablo-esque competitor. It wasn’t ready for primetime, but it obviously can’t compete from the grave.

    Adam, well put.

  17. Tivo has screwed up since being acquired by rovi, how about making their hydra platform work properly and bringing back classic features such as transfering recordings directly between dvrs which can still be done with tivos running the classic platform, and how about coming up with an updated tivo desktop plus that allows transfers back to dvrs running hydra as well as the classic platform, and then get the glitches out of hydra, how about making their stream devices to allow an external hard drive to be hooked up to it of any size so you could also record with it, till then I would rather buy used tivos that I can roll back from hydra and build into what I want.

  18. I am a product mkg exec but in B2B space and DO NOT follow this space except occasionally as a (former) 20-year Tivo customer. So with those caveats…

    I want a show-centric experience. All Roku and even Tivo stream have given me is what my Vizio already had: a single interface from which I must launch an app with its own disparate collection of content and its own separate user experience.

    Choosing between Hulu vs Vudu vs Sling etc is confusing but, with today’s business models, necessary for consumers to get the shows they want. But the subsequent chaos of user experience is fixable.

    My gut (no data) is there is a potentially large and profitable segment of consumers who just want to see the shows they want in one place, organized by show titles, and/or movies vs tv, or genre… They do not want them siloed by by publisher. Surely they all want the interface to act the same for all shows, not learn the quirks of how to navigate episodes or fast forward or find new shows in the separate worlds of Netflix, Prime, Hulu, Vudu, Sling….

    Roku “my feed” and even Tivo Stream fall way short of the classic Tivo user experience in more ways than I care to list. If Tivo can get this right an app on any platform – their dongle, someone else’s box, any TV, they should find a big market. I don’t see how this is “competing with Google” as other user suggested, just an app on their platform.

    But would it be profitable? Can their voice dogbone remote be a big profit maker? If they are otherwise just a software-as-a-service provider can they be profitable at $3 per user per month? How many users will shell out $X/mo for an app that “makes TV easy again?”

  19. It’s unfortunate that they are content with leaving the beloved TiVo DVR behind. On my fifth Bolt replacement in four years prompted me to give the Xfinity X1 (now with Peacock) a spin. I think I lasted about a week before returning it. The 4K unit had washed out colors, a terrible remote, horrifying menu navigation, and was just slow at everything.

    It showed where TiVo still shines as a traditional DVR. It also showed that TiVo has a marketing issue, not so much a product issue.

    I mean, sure, people are cutting the cord. The cable/sat market is tumbling faster each day. But as we’ve seen with PS Vue, there’s not a lot of money in it for the bulk digital providers. I had even considered YouTube TV when it was $49.99, but now it’s a $65 price tag. I might as well continue to bundle my cablecard and internet.

    Don’t get me wrong, I still stream. I have a 4K Roku TV, Apple TV, 4K Firestick (and their OTA DVR), and even the TiVo Steam 4K.

    TiVo tried hard with the Stream 4K but still missed the mark. Not everything appears in the TiVo side (especially search results), so I find myself more in the Android TV side of the product. One of the best things about TiVo (it’s guide) is also it’s biggest weakness here. At this point I keep it for HBO Max and Peacock.

    At least Roku still has the Xfinity Stream for when I need to access their OnDemand or channels that don’t come in with the CableCard — and (supposedly) that stream won’t count against my data usage.

  20. Sadly, Tivo is dead. They lost their way and squandered a great concept that was ahead of it’s time..

    Roku has potential as an app platform. The Roku search feature is excellent. Although Roku apps each have different UI’s (some of which are very poor..), they are at least all found in one place on a common platform. That’s a start. Roku’s ability to search across all of them is great.

    Sadly, we’ve gone from cable/satellite services, where one high price got you what you wanted, plus a lot of content that you didn’t want. Now we have content spread across a multitude of services, each with it’s own price, sign-up, management, and verification process.

    I don’t want to manage a dozen subscriptions to get what I want. Ease of use would be worth paying for. If Roku could centralize management of subscriptions in one place they’d have a winner. Perhaps also supply tools to standardize UI’s of various apps.

  21. “My gut (no data) is there is a potentially large and profitable segment of consumers who just want to see the shows they want in one place, organized by show titles, and/or movies vs tv, or genre… They do not want them siloed by by publisher.”

    The problem here, I think, is that the publishers *want* them siloed. They paid a lot for rights to the content, and they want you to associate the content with their service. They want you to stumble through their interface and notice five more things that you want to watch later.

    It doesn’t matter how much a consumer is willing to pay for a streaming device that’ll circumvent that — because the road block is the streaming services, and device revenue won’t go to them.

    I think the long shot in this is a company like Caavo that can actually control apps independently. I really wish they would release their technology in an Android TV device rather than in an HDMI switch.

  22. Dave, I would love to hear a chronicled breakdown of the demise of TiVo, from someone that has been there every step and misstep along the way. I would love to hear your unique perspective.

    The way I see it, and I only ever had a TiVo years (and years) ago, is the failure was long ago, trying to keep their “technology” too close, rather than licensing it to providers when they were developing their DVR’s. They could have had a “Powered by TiVo” and licensed the technology for however cheap of a contract cable companies would agree to, and had a stranglehold on the DVR market, for as long as it lasted. Instead, they seemed to over-value what they thought they uniquely had, when in reality, it turned into a one of many. Now, they are definitely on the outside looking in, wondering how they were kicked out of the party, relegated to looking into the party through the window, from the cold, snowy streets.

    Anyone that had a TiVo in its hayday remembers them with fondness. Now, they seem to be going the way of the Blockbuster Video, unwilling to admit the reality staring them in the face.

    Thanks for all your reporting. Love your insights.

  23. As the unofficial TiVo historian, I could probably write a book. But who would buy it? :)

    In our hearts and minds, they were always a startup. But the reality is they became a publicly traded company early-on, which routinely realigns one’s priorities and changes corporate trajectory. They became content with a conservative approach, focused on maximizing licensing revenue and industry deals — granted, that ensured their survival. But with $1b in the bank, they could have done, become anything. Yet they were seemingly out of ideas with limited motivation to evolve. As a defeatist high-level exec, hand-picked by former CEO Tom Rogers (despite zero experience in the industry) told me “you don’t understand how hard this business is” (paraphrase) and my response was something along the lines of “then change the game.” A decade ago when they were still a well-known, beloved “brand” I wondered why they weren’t making Blu-ray players to capitalize on their interface or a Harmony-esque remote to capitalize on that successful bit of engineering. More recently, with flush coffers, I wondered why they didn’t invest in technology or a company like Zonoff to go back to their original vision of home hub. On a more practical level, they had/have a lot of technical debt with so many platforms and mso/telecom customers, and I believe they’ve had a real hard time juggling all the work. Certainly two corporate mergers and a rotating cast of execs hasn’t helped these last few years. Products nearly ready to ship, like the TiVo Mavrik and streaming box clients were nixed by the respective new leaderships. Their current strategy isn’t bad, it’s just very late to the game, dependent on others for now (Google), buggy, and something of an insult to legacy DVR owners – they could have easily thrown us a bone. Although, again, they seem to have challenges executing on the technical side.

    Hindsight is 20/20 and the more interesting and successful consumer story arc turns out to be Anthony Wood. He was the CEO of Replay TV when they and TiVo launched the first DVRs. He ultimately ended up working for Netflix designing a streaming box, which he took back to his former company Roku (along with his Netflix team and millions of investment dollars) to launch the Roku as we know it. Their primary business these days is advertising on the home screen, through monetized free content, and app/hardware deals. Which is exactly what TiVo is now trying to emulate with this dongle, TiVo+, and smart TV strategy.

  24. I think you could write an angle of a “how-to” or “how-not-to” on branding, startups, and pivoting in a changing tech environment. It could be a business/tech article/book that could be enlightening. And I know you have insights to lots of tech companies. If nothing else it, would be an interesting read

  25. So many missed opportunities, so I’ll add a couple more. In the TiVo heyday the were in a prime position to become what Netflix and YouTube ultimately became, only better because of the hardware footprint in homes. Too obsessed with being sued out of existence. Squandered an important 18 months tangled up with AOL partnership. They had a very capable TV production staff, and could have been the first to launch original content as a strategy to make TiVo a “must have” media device. TiVoTakes was a tiny hint of that, but nobody would by a box for that. But five low-budget series launched of which one was a hit would have been a game changer. IMO.

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