January 12, 2005 9:49 AM PST

TiVo on hunt for new chief executive

TiVo is looking for a new chief executive, the digital video recorder maker said Wednesday.

Michael Ramsay,
TiVo

Michael Ramsay, the current CEO and chairman, plans to move into the role of chairman on a full-time basis, according to the Alviso, Calif.-based company. Ramsay, who has been CEO at TiVo since its founding in 1997 and who has been occupying both jobs, said he will continue to work as chief executive until the company finds a replacement.

TiVo, one of the pioneers of the digital video recorder (DVR) terrain, said its board has selected Howard Fischer Associates, an executive search firm with operations in Philadelphia, Silicon Valley and Boston, to help in the hunt for a new leader.

It's been a busy month for the company so far. TiVo used last week's Consumer Electronics Show to tout a number of deals and product plans. Among other plans, it wants to tap the Internet to expand its services as cable and satellite rivals incorporate DVR functions into their own gear. It also unveiled its TiVoToGo service, which got a plug from Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates.

The company credited Ramsay as having been instrumental in its overall growth, in particular with raising the DVR maker's visibility and making TiVo a household name in the consumer electronics market.

"Founding TiVo with Jim Barton and growing the company into a major consumer brand has been the thrill of a lifetime," Ramsay said in a statement. "We have achieved a tremendous amount since we started the company. We have had a fundamental impact on television viewing and believe strongly that the company has huge upside potential, in a massive market."

The executive said it is part of the "natural evolution" of any company to change its leadership as it grows and matures. The time had come for him to focus solely on TiVo's strategy, Ramsay said, and for the appointment of a leader from outside the company.

"I feel this is a great opportunity for the right person to run one of the industry's most exciting companies," Ramsay said, "and I look forward to recruiting a new CEO who will help the company realize its full potential."

With many local cable operators set to market their own DVR services, industry watchers have been watching TiVo closely to see how the company reacts to the growing threat to its flagship business. Many have speculated that the company might be seeking a buyer in order to help extend its reach into other areas of the electronics market and protect its profitability, but at least one industry analyst said the executive shift is unlikely linked to such a move.

"They don't need to move executives around to do a merger or acquisition," said Josh Bernoff, an analyst at Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass. "It's probably been a long slog for Ramsay, so I'm not surprised that he might want to share some responsibilities."

However, Bernoff said the CEO search may say something about TiVo's confidence in its current president, Martin J. Yudkovitz, a former executive vice president at NBC. The analyst said that Yudkovitz would seem the obvious choice to move into the CEO role, and questioned the reasoning behind bypassing the executive.

In terms of potential TiVo suitors, one name freshly added to the rumor bin is Apple Computer. Bernoff said Apple could view TiVo as an attractive brand to purchase if the computer maker has designs on entering the set-top device market in the future.

"Apple doesn't have any products in the TV space right now, so the TiVo brand could be useful in launching future devices, and TiVo could obviously benefit from having a larger company to support it," he said. "Both of these companies also share a certain coolness cache in terms of product usability and the audiences they appeal to, so in that regard, there may also be some potential benefits to a merger."

 

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