In the age of cord-cutting, an entirely predictable thing has happened to TiVo’s consumer business.
From 2017 to 2018, TiVo has lost about five percent of its cable-DVR subscriber base, roughly in line with the overall decline of cable TV subscriptions. During the same period, however, TiVo’s over-the-air DVR subscriber base has grown by 10%. That’s been boosted by products like the TiVo Bolt OTA, which can record broadcast channels from an antenna.
Although TiVo has largely become a licensor of software and patents since being acquired by Rovi in 2016, TiVo’s vice president of consumer products and services Ted Malone said that the company remains committed to the consumer business. To that end, the company is working on several new features, including apps for Roku, Apple TV, Fire TV, and Android TV that can access a TiVo box remotely. He also hinted at a potential live TV streaming service and Android-based consumer hardware.
“I would say our business is healthy—it’s profitable—but I would like to see more growth,” Malone said during an interview at CES earlier this month. “I took over the business about a year-and-a-half ago, and I’m pushing to bring more new innovation to consumers.”
TiVo streaming apps
As announced during CES, TiVo will release apps for Roku and Amazon Fire TV devices in the second quarter of this year. Apps for Apple TV and Android TV will follow in the third quarter.
If you have a TiVo that supports transcoding (including the Roamio Pro, Roamio Plus, Bolt, Bolt Vox, and Bolt OTA), these apps will let you stream live and recorded video to another TV, either at home or on the road. For other TiVo devices that lack transcoding, such as the entry-level Roamio or Roamio OTA, you’ll need a separate TiVo Stream box to use the apps.
In a demo, the streaming apps looked similar to the menu system on TiVo’s own hardware, but they do have one notable limitation: Video streams will be limited to 720p resolution at 30 frames per second. That means you won’t get the smooth motion of 60-fps video for sports, news, and talk programming, nor will you be able to watch broadcasts in their native MPEG-2 format.
“I want 720p 60 [fps],” Malone said. “I’ve done some internal demos proving that 720p 60 [fps] is actually noticeably better than 720p 30. It’s really a battle for resources and just getting it done.”
Malone said the TiVo hardware can technically support higher-quality streams, but not without dialing back some other capabilities, such as streaming to TiVo Mini Vox boxes. For better or worse, Malone still believes those Minis—which do support MPEG-2 video—are the best way to access TiVo on additional televisions. (Each TiVo Mini costs $180, and wireless connectivity will require an extra $60 adapter that’s coming out later this year.)
“Even with Roku and Apple and Fire TV, the Mini still is a better multi-room solution if you want the same remote, the same performance, the same video quality,” Malone said.
Adding more content
My major complaint with TiVo in recent years is that its app selection is far behind dedicated streaming devices, such as Roku and Fire TV. While TiVo offers several popular apps—including Netflix, Amazon Prime, and HBO Go—it’s missing lots of others, such as Showtime, Starz, Sling TV, Philo, PBS Kids, Crackle, Pluto, and NBA TV. To access those services, you need a separate streaming device, which means you’ll constantly be switching inputs and remotes.
Malone said TiVo has recently started considering an Android TV device for consumers, but it’s unclear what exactly that product would be.
“I think the question is, if we’re going to do something in the Android TV space, what should it be able to do?” Malone said. “Should it be an accessory to a DVR? Should it be a standalone device? Should we do our own streamer? Those are the kinds of questions I would ask you and your readers: Why?”
Another approach for TiVo would be to offer its own live TV streaming service, similar to what SiliconDust has done with its $35-per-month HDHomeRun Premium TV offering. That way, cord-cutters could keep the DVR experience they had with cable and get more than just over-the-air channels. Malone said TiVo has considered offering such a package.
“I think if we were to do something there, we would want it to be seamlessly integrated into the tuner experience,” Malone said. “We don’t have any plans to announce right now, but… I would like to have something to announce in the area.”
More DVR features
One of the more innovative features TiVo demoed at CES earlier this month didn’t involve any new hardware or new apps: An upcoming feature called “Smart Extend” will automatically record sporting events until they’re over, even accounting for overtime or extra innings.
To enable this feature, TiVo partnered with a company called Thuuz, which works with sports leagues to monitor games in real time. TiVo then matches Thuuz’s game data with its own internal clock, and sets the DVR timer accordingly. (You can also add an extra 15-minute buffer just to be safe.)
Unfortunately, Smart Extend won’t work for programs that appear after a sporting event, so a major gripe with all DVRs—that shows get clipped when sporting events run long—will remain unaddressed for now. Still, Malone said he’d been asked about that issue several times during CES, so perhaps the company will figure out a solution before long.
The tie-in with Thuuz could also enable some other interesting DVR features. Malone pointed out that Thuuz gives every game an “excitement” score of up to 100, based on factors such as player statistics, injuries, and the actual game score. In the future, he said, TiVo might let users avoid recording games that don’t reach a certain excitement threshold.
“Maybe you like baseball, but you don’t want to watch 160 games a year. You could just say, ‘Record my favorite teams when they’re in a game that starts getting exciting,’” Malone said.
He then added: “Anybody who says there’s no room left to innovate in the DVR world is not thinking broadly enough.”
Jared Newman has been helping folks make sense of technology for over a decade, writing for PCWorld, TechHive, and elsewhere. He also publishes two newsletters, Advisorator for straightforward tech advice and Cord Cutter Weekly for saving money on TV service.