Watch TiVo evolve with the industry, CEO says

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

TiVo Inc. is more famous than it is rich.

The Alviso, Calif., company is best known for its pioneering device that lets television viewers record, pause and rewind live TV shows.

But despite its watershed technology and near household-name recognition, TiVo has struggled to make money, posting only two profitable quarters since its founding in 1997. Its subscriber base has slipped to 4.1 million from 4.5 million in 2006.

Since Chief Executive Thomas S. Rogers took the reins from TiVo co-founder Mike Ramsay in 2005, the company has forged partnerships to help it survive and thrive.


TiVo signed a deal with Comcast Corp. that year to make its service available to the cable company’s subscribers, and it’s finally hitting the market in New England this month with plans to offer TiVo to the rest of Comcast’s 24 million customers later this year.

TiVo signed an agreement with Inc. last July to pipe movies and TV shows from Amazon’s download service directly to TV sets via Internet-connected TiVos. Earlier last year, TiVo reached a similar deal with RealNetworks Inc. to deliver a music service to home theater systems. It’s also positioning itself as an advisor to advertisers who want to know about people’s TV-watching -- and commercial-skipping -- habits.

TiVo shares have risen 27% in the last year to close at $6.90 on Friday, giving the company a market valuation of $683 million.

The Times caught up with Rogers at the Consumer Electronics Show this month and asked him to pause, rewind and fast-forward through the evolution of the television business. This is a condensed version of the conversation.

How have TV viewing habits changed since TiVo made its debut at CES in 1999?

The world of video is going to go the way of music. In the music world, you can get any song you want, any time you want it, on any device you want it. That’s what’s happened in the last five, six years. It’s become a la carte, on demand.


We think the same thing is going to happen with television. That changes the whole notion of television convenience and ease -- to mean being able to go out and find any piece of content you want through your television set and being able to watch it. We’ve built TiVo’s capabilities to do that. We started with being able to retrieve certain content from newspapers and other players that had video that they want to get to the TV set. And we expanded it with Amazon, where they created thousands of television shows and movies [that can be delivered] via broadband straight to your television set.

How does your agreement with RealNetworks to provide the Rhapsody online music subscription fit into all this?

We said, if you could get every song ever written on your television and customize your own approach to how you want to listen, that would be a major improvement. And we went out and did that.

What’s TiVo’s ultimate goal?

What we’re aiming to do is build a dream that going back 20 years ago people in cable and television have been talking about -- being able to get anything you want, when you want to see it on your television set. Now, there’s a lot of complications to that. There are different video formats. Some things on TV are sent directly to TiVo. Other things we have to grab off the Internet. Other things involve rights deals with studios. There have been many efforts to persuade people to connect their TVs to the Internet. Most have failed. Is this something people want to do?

People have said to us, “Well, OK, the content is distributed by broadband, but how are you going to get people to connect their broadband wires to their television sets? It’s an unnatural act. People are just not going to do that.” We said that’s just not the case. We have 800,000 TiVo users who have already directly connected their broadband through TiVo to their television sets.


Why get Internet on your TV?

It makes it really easy to basically get all this content right to your TiVo. What we’re doing is expanding the universe of choice available.

Now I can record things I want. I can get things off the Internet. I can get things via Amazon. I can get Rhapsody music. I can customize and personalize my own television viewing experience. That’s the evolution. It’s gone from a recording only, to creating the underpinnings for advertising and audience research as television consumption changes, to opening up the world of infinite choice in video. Not all of that is available. That’s the dream. We’re building toward that dream.

Why should consumers choose TiVo to do this for them?

TiVo has always stood for ease and simplicity, a kind of intuitive way to do this. And we think that the key to that is [to have] one box, one remote, one interface, a one-stop shop for getting all of this content to your TV.

What we see with this new phase of television, of getting anything you want to your TV, is the need to get around and find what you want quickly and easily. And that’s where TiVo really made its first mark. It was that navigation and search element that really distinguished us. And going forward, that navigation and search capability is going to be absolutely critical to how people use their television sets.


What’s the likelihood of TiVo merging with another company or selling this year?

Our view is that we’re just on the beginning edge of a whole new way to think about television. We have a great brand name and millions of people who swear by us to watch television. And there seems to be just an awful lot of upside to drive as an independent company.