TiVo hints at future enhancements

Company likely preparing for new partnerships, as well as the more open-ended flood of content that will come with Net access on DVRs.

An update to TiVo's privacy policy sent out this week has left hints about the digital video recorder company's plans for future relationships with outside content providers.

In the update, which the company sent to its customers via e-mail, the company wrote, "The updates (to the privacy policy) pertain primarily to the addition of new functionality that will enable TiVo subscribers to download content to their series 2 DVR."

And while the company said it is not announcing, or even preparing to announce, any new partnerships, there's no question it is likely getting ready for working relationships with any number of content providers, as well as the more open-ended flood of content that will come with Internet access on TiVo boxes.

At the very least, said Matt Zinn, TiVo vice president, general counsel and chief privacy officer, the company felt obligated to update its privacy policy to reflect changes in the way it handles personal information, given that Internet content will be mixed into what customers can get through TiVo's service.

"We have over the last years talked about this vision of being able to access content over the broadband connection," Zinn said. "All of Series 2 DVRs have a USB port, and if you have a network adapter, your home network will recognize your TiVo DVR as a device (connected to the Internet)."

In a newsletter sent to subscribers recently, TiVo elaborated even further about what might be possible with its Internet-enabled service.

"Subscribers who connect their TiVo Series 2 box to their home network should expect some ridiculously cool things to come down the pipeline this fall," the newsletter said. Among those features are the ability to stream digital music from a computer to a home entertainment system, play games, podcast and schedule programming via TiVo's Web site.

Meanwhile, TiVo has established close ties with Netflix. Zinn said that hypothetically speaking, the company's new privacy policy could cover any changes that would be required if the DVD company began sending its content via TiVo's service.

Murray Arenson, a senior analyst at Ferris Baker Watts, said that while he is unaware of any specific plans, he thinks speculation about a partnership in which Netflix provided TiVo with content is "going in the right direction."

In any case, Zinn said that the privacy policy had to be updated because the reality of content traveling across the Internet to a TiVo box means that the company's content provider partners would need to know at least something about the TiVo subscribers requesting it. Otherwise, he said, the content providers would have no way of knowing who to send their content to.

But he said that TiVo still highly values its customers' privacy

"We may need to know (who you are) so we can let the content provider know so you can be charged," he said. "But our philosophy (is) you have to let the consumer know how their information is being used. They have to trust us."

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