How TiVo Keeps the DVR Relevant

January 11, 2012

Note: This post was written before today’s TiVo announcements at CES reported on by our friend Dave Zatz at Zatz Not Funny. Outside of formatting and grammar, I have not made any significant edits to it. It’s interesting to see what came to pass in the post and what has not. Specifically, TiVo revealed the features of the next major release of the TiVo software, version 21, scheduled for a spring launch. The new release will contain updated Netflix and YouTube clients as well as additional UI and performance updates and a new set of parental controls. The most interesting news TiVo shared is that it’s developing a solution to stream recorded TiVo content to tablets

Recently, I’ve been pondering the future of the DVR and more specifically TiVo. Specifically, what does TiVo need to do to keep the DVR relevant? You may be thinking that DVRs are yesterday’s technology, ready to join the VCR in the tech gadget grave yard. The reality is that the DVR is still relevant today given how content creators and providers still tightly control the delivery of TV shows and movies. TiVo is unique in that it’s a product that straddles the traditional distributors: cable and satellite as well as the disruptive distributors of content: Internet video services (OTT). In today’s landscape, here are some things TiVo can do to keep the DVR alive and well.

First, the obvious ones that TiVo has acknowledged they are working on.

At the top of the list is updating TiVo’s dated Netflix and Amazon Instant Video applications. As previously reported, the new TiVo Netflix app will play native 1080P Netflix streams. On the Amazon Instant side, customers would like access the all-you-can-watch Prime Instant Video service. This fall, TiVo announced they are integrating the box with Facebook’s seamless social sharing (which in theory cannot be turned on until US law changes). Even though TiVo hasn’t been talking about implementing it, it would be nice to have a TiVo box with built-in wireless.

But from a higher level, what else can TiVo do?

Becoming the One Box

Bring the TiVo Preview box to the retail market. TiVo should market this box as a competitor to the Rokus and Apple TVs of the world. The key difference being that it would also act as a TiVo extender as well as having access to video streaming services. And of course, we don’t want to pay a monthly fee for this additional box.

Another way TiVo could fulfill the promise of being the “one box” is to license AirPlay. Let’s face it, a lot of us store our music in iTunes and this would remove the need to run TiVo desktop on your computer. With Airplay, you could just stream from your iPad or iPhone as well. It would remove Apple TV’s differentiator as an iTunes extender in the living room. Yes, it would be nice if it could handle video too but I haven’t seen any instances of Apple licensing out the ability to receive video yet.

Finally, adding additional video streaming services such as VUDU and HBO Go removes the need to purchase any other boxes for the home.

Make it a Family Box

Bring the concept of user profiles to the box. The Premiere Elite has enough recording capacity to offer separate Now Playing lists by family member. Do the same with TiVo’s suggested recordings. The box should offer parental controls for both recorded shows as well as streaming content. Fill the gap left by Netflix’s limited and Hulu Plus’ non existent parental controls.

Screen Shifting

Ability to stream recorded shows video to the iPad or iPhone app. Yes, the Premiere would have to do some heavy CPU lifting to transcode to H.264. While we’re at it, why not support place-shifting so we can watch our shows on the go. Streaming avoids some of the digital rights hurdles that transfers are subject to.

Improve Recording Functionality

DVRs have always been challenged with live events such as sports that can run past their scheduled end time. While you can add additional time to the scheduled recording, it often wastes space (and it’s an extra step). Since the Premiere is connected to the Internet, there should be a way to send a message to all Premieres recording a particular live event. How would the TiVo mother ship know a live event was running over? Crowd-sourcing is one option. Users who are watching the program live could hit a button on their TiVo indicating the program is running over. Alternatively, cable operators could embed something in their systems to flag that content is running over.

When requesting a recording from the TV schedule, TiVo should tell me if a streaming version already exists (to save recording space and avoid commercials).

Finally, it would be even better if there was a way to to store our recorded shows in the cloud. Yes, I know, there are some big digital rights issues raised by this but it would reduce remove the need and cost of a hard drive in the box.


TiVo’s HME functionality gave third-party developers the ability to develop apps for the platform. As TiVo indicated during the Flash retirement announcement, it’s now using Adobe AIR to build new apps on the Premiere. This opens up an interesting possibility. The apps in Samsung’s TV app store are also built with Adobe AIR. This could bring a large number of apps to the TiVo platform in a relatively short amount of time. While I don’t think there’s a killer app outside of premium video services in TV app stores, bringing apps like WSJ Live and VUDU to the TiVo would be a bonus.

There you have it. I’m spending some quality time with TiVo at the show so we’ll see what we can learn.

Tags: CES, Premiere, streaming, TiVo

One Response to How TiVo Keeps the DVR Relevant

  1. Zatz on January 11, 2012 at 11:00 am

    Hopefully we don’t know all there is to know about software version 21 or what apps are in the pipeline – as I imagine they’d want to hold some things back until they come to fruition and for max publicity.

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