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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7 comments

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What's the point?
What would the point be in this if it's going to be made illegal for me to have copys of movies on harddrives in my home? On a networked device? Capable of being online?

This is pointless......
Posted by Prndll (382 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not going to make a difference.
In losing their ties to major cable and satellite providers, TiVo is in the same boat as Microsoft with their Media Center. TV is going digital/HD over satellite and cable. But these companies are staunchly protective of their digital feeds in order to be able to market and control their own hardware. If TiVo and Microsoft MCE devices cannot get direct access to that digital signal, then all the bells and whistles in the world won't make a difference. I am not going to sacrifice the quality of my HD TV signal, having to go from digital decoded to analog, over a couple of cables and then re-encoded back to digital, just so I can play music over my TV.
Posted by kingwr (31 comments )
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Short tivo
You are dead on. Let me say I love tivo--its the best thing out since the vcr--there software is pretty good but there doomed. I knew the cable co. would simply come out with there own dvr and slap a cheap monthly fee on it and most importantly make it SIMPLE. If your on Cnet chances are your a techie---the other 85% of teh population wants to push a giant green button and be entertained--the only gadgets that are profitable can be used by grandma--my dad now has a computer but theres no way he could have operated my first computer with plain windows and dos commands---now I know i can network my tivo with my pc and make dvds but I dont want to spend the time--the cable companies will connect everything to there boxes and take all the business.
Posted by (1 comment )
Link Flag
Congress needs to get on board
and force the cable operators to open up their signal to allow feeds directly to computers, etc.
Posted by bobby_brady (765 comments )
Link Flag
It makes a difference.
With more than 5,000 users since its March launch, iSeeiTunes has become a relative hit among the <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.highspeedsat.com/-express-vue/" target="_newWindow">http://www.highspeedsat.com/-express-vue/</a> Satellite TV TiVo developer community.
Posted by Franceforum (2 comments )
Link Flag
Might as well use Media Center
What would be the point of this for Tivo? Might as well use Media Center, which is becoming pretty polished. That way I can also burn to DVD/CD.
Posted by bobby_brady (765 comments )
Reply Link Flag
VOD
My cable system now has VOD programming but it requires using both my cable box and tivo remotes to record. Tivo needs an app that allows for recording VOD programming without having to use the cable remote.
Posted by (1 comment )
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