It’s been an exciting week for TiVo watchers (the company, not the content), with most of the events hinting at the costs of TiVo’s failure to design a venture that built partnerships quickly in today’s technical and business climate.
But let’s start with with good news, a jury just awarded TiVo $73M in its suit against Echostar for infringing its patents “covering a method for playing one television show while recording another and a storage format that allows the pausing of live television, among other capabilities.” (WSJ, 4/14/06, TiVo Wins…). This is good news for TiVo, obviously, because as the WSJ journalists put it:
TiVo is facing blistering competition from much larger cable and satellite companies that have the advantage of already-established relationships with tens of millions of television subscribers.
In the last year, the overall DVR market has almost doubled while TiVo’s added roughly 50%. Nice numbers, but paltry compared to the overall market. And the jury decision is by no means a done deal; EchoStar has plenty of money to drag this out until, as I’ll suggest next, it’s a moot point.
In other news…
While we’ve been watching the battle between the TiVo box and the knock-off boxes of the cable and satellite companies, there’s are whole other sides to this revolution. For instance, Cablevision announced plans to move the whole DVR feature set upstream (CableVision plans)…essentially putting the storage and playback functions on their own servers:
A plan by Cablevision Systems Corp. to let cable television viewers pause and store programs on the cable system instead of living room set-top boxes drew the ire of some programmers, two network owners said on Sunday
No coincidence that this news came out at the same time as networks like ABC and Fox began announcing their own ways to allow users to view television shows free anytime they want. Disney will now begin offering video of their own ABC shows the morning after they’re aired on television :
Episodes of the ABC shows — which can be paused, rewound and fast-forwarded — will contain commercial breaks that viewers can’t skip, making Disney hopeful it has figured out a way to turn the delivery of programs over the Web into a profit-generating business. Ten advertisers, including Ford Motor Co., Procter & Gamble, Universal Pictures and Unilever, already have signed up.(WSJ, 4/10/06, Disney will offer…)
The same story comes from Fox (Fox logs on):
Though Fox has lagged behind the other networks in taking the step to make its shows download-friendly, its plan is different in that it plans to share the revenues generated by the move with its 187 affiliate stations, something rival nets ABC, CBS and NBC do not do.
This is where it gets really interesting, as the networks must now figure out how to please their advertisiing partners–who paid for placement in people’s living rooms, and based on Nielson ratings, and not for web downloads (yet). And they need to appease their local affiliates, who lose their own advertising revenues when viewers can watch a show on the web instead of locally. But if the cablecos or the networks can figure this out they will make TiVo obsolete before it even had a chance to catch on. Why record something at home when you can stream if from the web anytime? Sure, these services are for viewing on the computer only right now, but does anyone believe that distinction will last more than a few more years?
Once again, the victor will not be the one with the best technical solutiuon, but rather the one who figures out a way to give everyone a little (or a lot) of what they want: the advertisers, the networks, the cable and satellite companies, the set-top (and PC) manufacturers, and–oh yeah–the viewer. Apple figured out the way for digital music, who will pull it off in video?