April 22, 2005 4:00 AM PDT
TiVo looks for an edge
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which songs to play. The notebook then transmits the songs to Airport Express devices connected to stereos, which play the songs--a complex but handy way of playing digital music in his home.
The music-playing application, which took about a month and a half to write, was in part made possible by a software development kit made available by TiVo to programmers earlier this year as part of its Java contest.
eBay auctions via DVR
Developers have been busy. One program called Java TivoDemo allows TiVo subscribers to bid and search for books, DVDs, music and video games on eBay through their DVRs. Another, developed by van Hoff, is GoogleMap, which allows viewers to see map and satellite information on their televisions. Galleon is an open-source project aimed at organizing content on a PC so it can be viewed on a TV. Another displays pictures from photo-sharing site Flickr.
Many of the current applications are proof of concept, meaning they're meant to demonstrate what's possible--although not necessarily practical--through TiVo DVRs.
However, Gharaat says the programs will be as rich and as useful as the developers want to make them. "As an open platform, a significant portion of the applications will be deployed and supported by third parties."
That means TiVo will have to be more active in helping developers--and so far it has been.
"I've been surprised by how open they made (HME), to the point where some programs could be developed that are in competition with what they are doing with Tahiti," said Leon Nicholls, leader of the Galleon project. Tahiti aims to make Internet content available on the television through the TiVo service.
Copeland says he plans to take up the opportunity and improve iSeeiTunes to include a fuller interface so it's easier to go through a music collection. He is mulling the idea of selling future versions of the software and starting a business.
Will new features be enough?
While creating new applications for TiVo may be a no-brainer, getting them into the boxes of their distribution partners--cable and satellite--may not be. For example, TiVo's biggest partner, DirecTV, has not made features beyond the DVR available to its satellite subscribers.
The satellite company has said there wasn't enough demand for the new features to justify the cost of customer support calls. If partners continue to choose not to make new features available, it could hurt TiVo's efforts to set itself apart from generic DVR services.
This has led some investors to believe that in order to survive, the company would have to sell itself--names of potential suitors have most recently included Google and Yahoo, but also Apple, Sony and Comcast have also been rumored about.
TiVo executives declined to comment on acquisition talks.
Company representatives have said the company never planned to stop with the DVR service. Instead they aim to build off the rising number of TiVo subscribers in the market--currently more than 3 million and counting--by offering new features that complement the DVR. Earlier this year, TiVo announced its Tahiti strategy, of which HME is a part.
Such ambitions have been discussed and attempted before, but without a success story to emulate, many wonder if the convergence of the Internet and television is a mine worth continuing to dig.
"People don't want to watch the Internet on the TV," said Jon Peddie, an analyst at Jon Peddie Research. "But what TiVo is doing by making Internet content available on custom screens designed for the television is better."
Earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show, TiVo Chairman Mike Ramsay said a number of consumer trends point to the industry's best chance of making the Internet-TV crossing a safe one. Consumers' use of digital media, the rising numbers of households with broadband Internet access and home networks, and the increasing capacity of hard drives may be helping the stars to align themselves.
TiVo plans to ride the waves of those trends by adding features such as movie downloads, search, and information gathering. An essential part of those plans includes bringing together ideas and features from developers such as Copeland and Brosnan.
"This is a logical next step," Copeland said. "I just hope they play it right."
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