TiVo Plots Its Android TV Defection

While TiVo had hitched its streaming wagon to Google, Xperi is somewhat course correcting as they evolve their cord cutting experience. You see, the TiVo Stream 4k is essentially an Android TV streaming dongle… enhanced with TiVo’s special sauce of content discovery (and augmented by free programming). Which was all well and good. Until Google decided to similarly place content recommendations front and center, which is both redundant on TiVo and a potential threat.

As CEO Jon Kirchner explains from their quarterly call:

[…] moving into an embedded application, where we’ll be let’s say the preferred user interface choice on a broader platform but originally around the notion that it would live on top of Android TV. […] What has changed is last fall, Google came out and said that they intend to go beyond their core OS level offering and really get into the UX business, and in so doing it eclipses one’s ability to I think reasonably be an alternative […]

While the revised plan may be specific to TiVo-powered television set ambitions, it seems reasonable to assume there could be a next generation TiVo Stream dongle in the works, but something akin to Fire TV — with Amazon exerting more visual and behavioral control atop a rudimentary Android build. Or, perhaps this is the end of the streaming stick line… as TiVo doesn’t have the luxury of time or the footprint and leverage required to court independent app development like Roku.

Updated 5/10 8:45PM EST

Xperi’s PR firm has reached out to clarify:

We are continuing our development of the TiVo Stream 4K Device, which is a pillar in our multi-part and phased strategy to expand into SmartTV OS. The TiVo Stream 4K allows us to introduce new features and functionality with maximum control, speed, and flexibility. Jon’s comments were meant to give our investor community insight into this multi-part and phased strategy, including an accelerated development of our TiVo Stream OS Platform in lieu of developing TiVo Stream Apps on other SmartTV OS platforms.

The statement makes no mention of a future stick, Android TV or otherwise, nor do I see changes to the timeline, beyond dropping a dedicated smart TV app from the roadmap. And, as I surmise in the comments below, launching a smart television OS two years from now is probably four years late (irrespective of platform). Since the communication channels have been opened, I did inquire with PR about reports of TiVo layoffs and staff realignment, how that might factor into these matters.

UPDATE 5/13 11:30AM EST

No response from Xperi PR on the possibly bleak TiVo staffing situation. But Jared Newman got a little more out of them that indicates additional Android TV dongles are on the roadmap.

36 thoughts on “TiVo Plots Its Android TV Defection”

  1. Tivo stream is a bust. Even after customizing it like crazy. II bought two of them based on previous love of Tivo (I own three currently). Then I tried a Google device which looks and acts nearly the same but much faster and easier with little or no customizing needed. Yes, I understand them. Why would they want to have a Tivo Stream and compete against the Google / Android device. My Tivo custom set up was basically trying to imitate what would later become the Google device and strip away the tivo artifacts. What will be next from them, who knows? Please chime in to enlighten.

  2. I haven’t looked too closely at the dongle, but it is a viable alternative to TiVo and Cable Card for those wanting to cut the cord? It really irks me that for the TiVo faithful (or insistent) there’s still no reasonable way to maintain a TiVo (Roamio-genre) experience but without cable.

    Can we still not just get shows to appear in the Now Playing list regardless of how they’re sourced? TiVo should have totally owned the cord cutting movement and hidden all of the “finding your content”.

    I don’t care where or how they find The Daily Show, Jon Oliver, Bil Maher, Avatar, or various other shows – just get them and keep the experience. Instead, aging parents who refuse to give up TiVo continue to hobble along with old TiVo boxes paying $150+/month for cable TV that really shouldn’t be necessary if one was willing to pay “a la carte” for a few channels.

    I suppose some content (Weather Channel, HBO and NASCAR for certain folks) could still lock you into a cable subscription for the time being… :-/

    Thoughts? Comments? Suggestions? The aggregators I’ve seen are all missing something, so what to do besides “stick with cable”?

  3. @TiVoDieHardFans: The TiVo Stream 4K is a media streamer in the line of a Roku device–it most emphatically is not a “real TiVo” (read, a Roamio/Bolt/Edge/etc. box) for the hardcore, historic TiVo users. :(

  4. Are we going to lose the ability to download and keep TCM movies? If so, what is the alternative?

  5. For me, the TiVo Stream 4K is great… as a front end running the Channels app in a Channels DVR ecosystem. The remote especially helps.

  6. As a tivo user since the very first model, I am disappointed that they seem to have opted to become “just another” android streamer, and try to get a piece of that giant pie, presumably based mainly on price competition vs. anything technically unique. They’re going to lose this battle – Who is going to be shopping for an android streamer and pick a Tivo branded device over a firestick or other more well known device, except for a Tivo faithful customer, who is now disappointed that the device has nothing to do with what made Tivo special. I thought they were on the right track with the MINI, and was hoping the next step was a centralized receiver appliance that didn’t necessarily have a TV attached but that would have good connectivity for capturing various sources and then serve them to my various MINIs around the house. At least the Tivo Stream should be able to connect to and get content from my existing Tivos, but I dont think they can even do that!?! I’m very sad that my Tivo buying days are likely over.

  7. I think they will go the route much like at&t TV did with the Osprey Box. You are limited to at&t UI that runs on Android, but you still have access to the Google Play store to download the streaming apps. You can’t quit out of the at&t TV interface much like you can the TiVo interface on the 4K

  8. I don’t know what the TiVo management was thinking when they axed the ‘TiVo on Android’ project to focus on the TiVo Stream. The ‘HDMI stick’ market is already saturated by the heavy hitters, with the biggest quite happy to sell hardware at cost because the revenue stream they are chasing is content-based, and the premium market pretty much owned by Apple TV and the nVidia Shield. Why compete at the low end with a custom hardware play in such a market? An android app on other people’s hardware would have given them an existing total addressable market far larger with no adoption ramp. It’s almost impossible to differentiate on hardware in the current market (the same chipsets available to everyone) and on the software side, going head-to-head with the likes of Google and Amazon seems foolhardy.

    Having said that, there are still significant opportunities out there. Companies like Plex, Fancy Bits (Channels DVR), Silicon Dust (HDHomeRun), and Tablo are carving out nice businesses (albeit smaller ones). They all seem to have a much better understanding of the current market than TiVo does, albeit each choosing (wisely) to only tackle a manageable slice of it.

    TiVo certainly used to have the engineering chops to be able to put together an integrated, easy-to-use product as an amalgam of these. Tablo-like or HDHomeRun Scribe-like products would have made a lot more sense of the Mini and TiVo Stream would have made more sense. They have all the pieces already – technologies and business relationships both. Heck, they were the pioneers in most of them.

    I can only assume that both the TiVo product management and executive team have failed to stay in touch with the market they created. This saddens me greatly.

  9. I love my Tivo Stream. I barely use the android tv interface and live mainly on the stream interface which in my opinion is the best by far between Android, fire tv and tivo (the three I use). It’s extremely well designed, intuitive and makes everything a breeze. I’ve had no issues with speed, it’s snappy and does the trick. Plus it’s HD10 compatible unlike others.

  10. Over on 9to5Google, they’re wondering if Android TV operator tier potentially gives TiVo more control, less exposure. As a Google partner, TiVo probably knows better than us what’s coming down the pike and whatever that is has accelerated their plans to cut bait. Not to mention, the current solution is a little wonky anyway – you basically have launch the TiVo Stream app to get the full experience. And the homescreen TiVo recommendation row was somewhat deprecated when Google inserted their large rotating ad/recommendation section up top.

    Anyhow, if TiVo does truly drop Android TV for a much lesser Android (as Amazon does) or their own thing (like Roku), they’re going to have work deals for streaming apps. Which they probably don’t have the leverage or footprint for. So it’s all pretty curious… unless they already have a television manufacturer lined up who will expose their relationships/apps to potential TiVo linkage and want to revenue share the ad-supported TiVo+ content. Someone like a Vizio. But not Vizio, because they’re already partnered up. This feels like a game of musical chairs and everyone, other than TiVo, has already grabbed a seat – which maybe lines up with Steve and Paul’s comments.

  11. Tivo was the thing, but then it wasn’t! Then deactivated so many features, it wasn’t worth the money. Comcast refused to support their service fully, whenever there was a problem/issue tivo couldn’t solve it, comcast didn’t want to deal with tivo at all…. after years of dealing with it I had to let tivo go.

  12. @Michelle: I have to disagree–at least as an over-the-air guy, my TiVo box (well, boxes) *still* is the thing, and I despair of the time when my TiVo service no longer is around (egads, having to watch commercials if I don’t want to? not being able to time shift, and to record shows automatically when I’m not around or while asleep? not being able to set and forget Season Passes? not having a 3TB library of shows to watch with the press of a button? and not being able to watch shows in sped-up time, getting an hour show down to half an hour?).

    That being said, TiVo’s continual mismanagement of its asset is saddening. Increasing-over-the-years TiVo Guide mis-information is frustrating, and TiVo’s downgrading of its service functionality (most recently, eliminating Alexa interoperability–I guess TiVo doesn’t think that Alexa is a commercial success?) maddening.

  13. Selling enough TiVo Stream 4K units, riding atop Android TV, was always going to be tough for TiVo. But with all new Android TV devices being forced to use the competing Google TV content aggregation/recommendation system in the next year or so, it just doesn’t leave any place for TiVo in Google’s world. (And from Google’s perspective, it’s understandable. Why let a third party handle that functionality when Google’s own OS can and should?)

    So I guess TiVo’s plan to switch instead to smart TVs makes sense. Because they need to hitch their wagon to a bigger player to succeed. If they can get a major TV brand to adopt the forthcoming “TiVo Stream OS/app store” then they might gain enough traction to stick around. As you say, Dave, the most logical thing would be for them to simply use open-source Android, as Fire TV OS does, with a custom TiVo-designed home screen. That should allow developers to easily re-use their existing Fire TV and/or Android TV apps on the TiVo Stream OS.

    Given that it will be built into TVs, I would expect TiVo’s smart platform to also sport an OTA channel guide, and perhaps content recommendations, if an antenna is connected. Maybe it will even allow for a storage device to be connected for OTA DVR functionality.

    My top guesses as to which smart TV OEMs might adopt a TiVo OS are Vizio, Panasonic and maybe Skyworth. The other top selling global brands all look pretty entrenched with the OSes they currently run. If TiVo can only land smaller brands (e.g. Insignia, Sharp, Westinghouse, RCA, Onn, etc.), then it won’t matter. They won’t sell enough units or have enough pull with app developers to succeed.

  14. @NashGuy: I couldn’t help but chuckle (sadly)–under your very real, possible scenario, TiVo would end up right back where it had started and left off (if it only had completed its strategy), over-the-air/cable television DVR service with streaming built in. ;)

  15. TiVo has been dead since Hydra came out. It was very clear there was a complete lack of focus and they were throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks.

  16. The whole problem with TiVo is the fact that the “old timers”, who helped build TiVo from the start are long gone after the first company bought them out. And their new owner, Xperia, doesn’t have a clue about a user ecosystem and only wanted TiVo’s IP holdings. Arris/Commscope designed and builds the current Edge OTA and CableCARD DVRs.

    I see TiVo spinning off the DVR business to Arris/Commscope, as TiVo provides DVRs and custom firmware to smaller cable companies, and TiVo continuing to provide the UI and DVR service.

  17. Oh, the ‘old timers’ were long gone even before Rovi started circling. No-one I worked with at TiVo is still there. Somehow they managed to lure Ted Malone back, but perversely didn’t listen to him.

    Ironically several of those folk are now doing great work at the very companies that have made TiVo irrelevant.

    In my observation, a company doesn’t create great products, it creates a culture and environment that supports talented people making great products. When a company’s culture begins to crumble, talented people are the first to find another company at which to thrive.

  18. Yeah, poor Ted. He was doomed to fail given the amount of resources he was allocated and the ongoing executive shuffle with associated interference. But, yeah, it’s been fun to watch some of the folks I knew from TiVo prosper with other orgs (that are prospering). Planning to launch a TV OS in two years is like four years too late.

  19. Dave, *if* (big if) TiVo was able to land a TV manufacturer that mattered — say Vizio — to deploy the TiVo Stream OS across all their smart TVs, then it wouldn’t matter if that didn’t happen until two years from now, IMO. Major TV brands sell a lot of units and I think most people tend to simply use the smart platform built into those TVs.

    The hard part is convincing an OEM to take a chance on TiVo Stream OS versus their own platform or instead licensing the better-known Roku, Android/Google TV or Fire TV platforms. But that would’ve been a challenge for TiVo two years ago too.

    How likely do you think it is that the TiVo Stream 4K is the last new retail TiVo product we see?

  20. TiVo is circling the drain as a consumer product. They probably still have life in provider STBs, but I would not recommend TiVo consumer products to anyone at this point. You know what a TiVo diehard I was for so long, but I kept losing functionality on my DVRs, even the Bolt – and they were never great with app support in the first place. That already had me thinking about dumping TiVo for X1 when I moved in 2019, but I stuck it out – until Comcast messed with pricing and data caps and I cut the cord.

    When I cut the cord the TiVo Stream 4K wasn’t considered for more than a second. I went with the Chromecast with Google TV. Even though the TiVo dongle was comparable, and cheaper, I just didn’t trust TiVo as a vendor anymore. I didn’t have any faith that it wouldn’t be a dead product in months, or that it’d continue to support apps, get new features, etc. Basically I trust Google far more than TiVo these days.

    I’ve recommended the Chromecast with Google TV to many people now – and I’d actively advised people NOT to buy the TiVo Stream 4K instead.

    I hate that it has come to this, but TiVo today just isn’t the innovator they once were. Launching a new Smart TV platform now, let alone in a few years, smacks of Palm launching WebOS when they did – too little, too late. The last gasp of a once market-leading company. Ironically, WebOS is one of the platforms they’ll have to compete with, as LG is opening it up to other TV makers.

    And, of course, they’ll also be up against Google/Android TV and Roku’s TV platform, which already have extensive and growing vendor support.

  21. I recently tried watching a two hour show (and skipping commercials) with the X1 I tried to get my mother to use instead of her old TiVo (after moving from Cox territory to Comcast) and couldn’t believe how painful it was. TiVo literally nailed this (“TrickPlay”) almost 25 years ago. That was enough motivation to get a CableCard from Comcast and set up her old Roamio. Any streaming solution with just internet (dropping TV) would probably save $100/mo but there’s a learning curve for older folks with TiVo muscle memory and little desire to learn the new ways.

    Plus there’s the whole issue I’ve complained about for years that it’s just so hard to find each random show and remember which “app” you need to use to locate it. TiVo’s “Now Playing” screen really does an amazing job of collecting and presenting the shows you want to watch. Has anyone else solved this yet, on a single platform in some unified manner?

  22. That will be a better mousetrap for sure. Some type of unification aggregator that can snatch your content at will. We can all say why it’s too complex and individualized to put into place. But I believe with AI a couple of hundred nerds it’ll be accomplished.

  23. I literally go to a JustWatch app to find what channel or app the program is on. I can’t believe this hasn’t been built into a streamer.

  24. @TiVoDieHardFans – TiVo is still a good DVR, but DVRs are dying out. More and more people are cutting the cord, and for those who aren’t the CableCARD mandate is dead – and it is expected that cable companies will start dropping support for them as they upgrade their systems. Which will kill existing consumer TiVos. There are already services the existing TiVos cannot access with some providers.

    TiVo’s ‘Now Playing’ worked fairly well for recordings, and so-so for streaming content – at its best. As the DVRs lost support for streaming services (like HBO Max) or never got them (Disney+, Crunchyroll, Funimation, Peacock, Paramount+, etc.) it became less than useful for anything other than recordings.

    Chromecast with Google TV does an OK job of having a top level ‘watchlist’ which aggregates content from multiple streaming services, but it still has its limits – sometimes due to services blocking the aggregation, and sometimes because they just haven’t pulled in content from a given service (usually less mainstream).

    TiVo really seems more focused on their streaming platform now – either TiVo Stream 4k or smart TVs. DVR development has been languishing, and what we have seen is really focused on what carriers want – not consumer products.

  25. The sort of content aggregation that Reelgood and JustWatch do *has* been built into streamers. It’s there in Apple’s TV app on the Apple TV, as well as the new Google TV home screen, complete with universal search and watchlist. (Although, in both cases, Netflix isn’t fully supported because Netflix refuses to cooperate.)

    And Dave, yes, as I said, it’s a big if as to whether TiVo could land a TV brand (that’s big enough to matter) to use their planned TiVo Stream OS. Probably not. I don’t doubt that they’re exploring the possibility, but in reality it may be more about having a talking point to offer investors to soften the blow of their retreat from the retail streaming arena after a short-lived failed experiment with the TiVo Stream 4K (which, let’s face it, has no future).

    Your subsequent post today about recent layoffs at TiVo, along with yesterday’s winning bid by TiVo for MobiTV, makes me think it’s even more likely that we never see another retail product come to market bearing the TiVo logo. Aside from ongoing service and support for the retail TiVo products already sold, it seems pretty likely to me that Xperi focuses solely on licensing B2B solutions.

  26. Earlier this week I received an email survey from Tivo. It asked a bunch of questions about the Stream 4K device. One of things they asked is if the ability to play streams from a Tivo DVR would be desirable. Hell, yeah! I still have a Roamio Pro and would love to be able to play it’s content via Stream 4K.

  27. That question has been part of their Stream surveys for quite awhile. And, when I last inquired about it, I was told emphatically it wasn’t going to happen (again). With fewer resources now than then, as part of the pre-spinoff belt-tightening (?), I’d say it’s even less likely. I still have a lifetimed Roamio in storage should they ever get with the program. But I doubt they will.

  28. It is a ridiculous situation that the TiVo stream will not show you your own recordings on your own TiVo. Two years ago TiVo announced an app that would let you watch your own recordings from any TV anywhere. But they never released it because they thought it would undercut the TiVo mini. I think that is also why they don’t have that feature on the TiVo stream. What they should do is make the feature available and either charge you a monthly fee to use it or increase the price of the stream to the price of a mini. I would buy it in a heartbeat.

  29. BBC, I think that your TiVo Mini cannibalism thoughts likely formed part of TiVo’s decision for not adding TiVo box playback to the Stream 4K. Likely also coming into play: playback quality issues as well as other increased tech. variables and related complications, especially with wireless transmission. And then, of course, TiVo also would need to have the tech. staff around to develop and support the capability.

    Along the lines of what you were suggesting: it would have been interesting if TiVo had added the capability to the TiVo Stream 4K but locking it, and then charging, let’s say, $50 (per Stream) to unlock the capability.

  30. TiVo has had the technology for years. You can watch our own box on an iPad or phone anywhere. You can watch it on your computer in your own house but not in somebody else’s house. That’s nuts. There was a time about a year ago where I could watch my TiVo DVR on my laptop anywhere. It was as though TiVo was testing it. It worked fine. But then they ended it. I watch my TiVo box anywhere I am off of Slingbox. But Slingbox is ending its services November a year from now. TiVo needs to step up and fill the Slingbox gap for its loyal customers who like to watch their shows at the river house or in a hotel etc.

  31. @BBC, I would love to see TiVo stepping up to fill DVR gaps and to further develop its platform–but I just see it seeming to block off gaps nowadays instead (e.g. in dropping Alexa and IFTTT support).

    Perhaps I’ve missed it, but when was the last time TiVo did anything to better/develop its DVR platform? (Perhaps there has been a fix for some TiVo Edge original defect/deficiency.) Well, wait, I have to be fair: it recently *did* fix program guide scheduling errors on 2 channels that I had called to its attention . . . . ;) That kinda feels like it sums up the current state. :(

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