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CNET Conversations: A Conversation with TiVo CEO Tom Rogers
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CNET Conversations: A Conversation with TiVo CEO Tom Rogers

22:33 /

In a sit-down with Molly Wood, TiVo's boss talks about when the DirecTV TiVo is coming (soon!), why TiVo isn't the standard offering for cable DVRs, and why the Premiere series isn't totally baked yet.

[ Music ] ^M00:00:09 >> Hi, I'm Molly Wood. Welcome to another episode of CNET Conversations. Today I'm very excited to be at TiVo, where we're speaking with CEO, Tom Rogers. Thank you so much for having us here today. >> Great to be here, Molly, thank you. >> We asked our users what they wanted to talk about and what they wanted to hear from you. And there was really I would say one resounding issue about that DIRECTV TiVo. What can you tell me? >> Are people going to stay with us or are they going to fast forward all the way through, you think? >> We might have to ask you again at the end, because I'm not allowed to leave here without an answer. >> Well, DIRECTV is an important client for us who we are working hard with to come up with something by the latter part of this year. And we are very excited to be back in business with DIRECTV, which has been a major part of TiVo's history in the past and a player that we have had a major break with and then have patched things up and are back together in business. So we're excited to get things going. They have a new CEO who we think is just terrific, particularly because he's so consumer marketing oriented and we think we're all about being able to connect more with the consumer and make the television experience better and friendlier. So for a lot of reasons, we're excited about that. But the timeframe continues to look like the latter part of this year. >> So can you give us any specifics about what it might look like? Will there beyou know, until now, it's been older versions of the software. The TiVo Premiere experience you said would not necessarily be available. Do you know if it will potentially be a new box for those consumers? >> Well, it will certainly be a new box. I'm not going to discuss the specific features or the look and feel now. But the main thing it's intended to accomplish is give people the look and feel of TiVo with all the functionality and channel capability of DIRECTV, and being able to marry those in an experience that today isn't available to DIRECTV subscribers. So everybody should stay tuned, and more to come. >> Okay, and then, of course, the next major thing people want to know before we talk about the TiVo Premiere hardware is what's going on with the Comcast deal? There's been talk of a Tru2way solution, talk of, you know, there was an actual TiVo unit rollout in New England, and then what's going on there? >> Well, that continues to be available in New England. But it was put together with what we would call preTru2way technology behind it. And as you know, the bigger players in the cable industry are moving to Tru2way and are very focused on the rollout of Tru2way to markets. And they are paying us to develop a Tru2way version of TiVo, which we are in the midst of. I think the issue for the cable industry has been that Tru2way has been a longer project than many of them would have liked. And as a result, our future deployment, which is somewhat connected to that Tru2way activity, has been somewhat slowed. But we're also quite hopeful that what we are able to offer today to consumers is something that the cable industry is increasingly finding benefits in and makes us optimistic that there will be some opportunities there for us to proceed with that are not yet fully visible to the world. So there's a lot for us, we think, by way of future opportunity with the cable industry, the Tru2way thing continues in development, then if you're lucky enough to live in New England, you can get a downloadable version of TiVo to your existing settop box. >> So what about the box? I know you have a deal with RCN to distribute the actual TiVo Premiere hardware. Why haven't you made a deal with Comcast or Time Warner to be, you know, instead of to supplant Scientific America or Motorola? It seems to me that people would want that hardware. >> Well, we have, in fact, done some cable deals that are based on the new Premiere look and feel; notably, RCN, and actually Virgin in the UK. In the case of RCN, it actually does involve our hardware, as well as our software, and effectively turning our box into the equivalent of a cable provision settop. And that is a conversation that has increasing traction with the cable industry. Forget about the top biggest guys in the industry a minute. But most of the rest don't have Tru2way as an option and are sitting there looking at a world that is increasingly about how do you bring broadband choice to the television screen? And there are not being any great technological solution available for them to do that. And we find ourselves front and center with a number of operators as a key means of trying to do that. And I think people are watching the RCN deployment, which will be taking place over the next few months, as a way to really get comfortable with the fact that we do have a fully bake cable solution. So your point is well taken. >> And do you think that that is the future? Because I think consumers, at this point, some of them see CableCard or Tru2way as a little bit of a kluge, or at least something that they just aren't familiar with. >> Well, Tru2way was supposed to deal with the fact that the Motorolas and Ciscos, the incumbent cable box providers, were not creating enough robust user experience, not enough applications for the cable industry to really take its whole viewing experience to the next level. And Tru2way was a way of taking that out of the box and into a software realm where the set of applications could be made available. So it could be a much more robust cable experience. With Tru2way having slowed down, you do have this whole issue of how is the cable industry going to strategically respond to a world of broadband and traditional television merging? And our future seems to be very much about being able to provide answers to operators. We can provide a retail solution. We can take that retail solution, as I described with RCN, and turn it into a cable box. We can take that software that's in that and take it out of the box, build it into a thirdparty box, which is, for instance, what we're doing with Virgin cable. Or we can do what we're doing with Comcast, which is take a box that already has software loaded in it that we had absolutely nothing to do with and upload our software as an alternative. And the fact that we have that many ways to be able to distribute the retail, one being CableCard based, and therefore, suitable for someone who's otherwise a cable subscriber, but wants to go out and buy their own box, really gives us a lot of flexibility in terms of our future as to how we actually get the TiVo experience in front of the users. >> And then possibly another area of flexibility is, you know, obviously there have been recent positive developments for you in the area of the patent lawsuit, the decisions in favor of you against EchoStar and Dish. Now, I know there's ongoing litigation, but is that another avenue basically for you, that you may, in the future, become a licenser of the intellectual property behind TiVo, and maybe not so much of a box builder? >> Well, what we view ourselves as is a company that frames the viewing experience across television broadly. It's going way beyond the DVR to the entirety of the television experience. What we're recording is one way that you contribute to that viewing experience. But it's one of a broader array of ways of doing that. And the IP that we have is certainly a very important component of our strength as a company in providing that and people recognizing the value we bring to the table. But our goal has always been commercial relationships, where we can get the TiVo look and feel out there. And that's thesometimes hardware and wrapping it in hardware is a valuable way to do that. If we can create a software solution that doesn't require hardware, we're happy to do that. But it's all about what we bring to the table overall that allows us to drive broad distribution for TiVo. >> Why do you think that theyou know, this isn't certainly your [inaudible], but why do you think the MSOs and some of the cable companies are so resistant to adopting this sort of more consumerfriendly interface, frankly? I mean, I feel like in a world where TiVo exists, why do I ever have to have a Comcast DVR? >> Well, I think that Comcast has been very interested in bringing a better alternative to the table and have worked with us on a lot of development fronts and are quite inspired by what we're able to do for the consumer. I don't think it's been a lack of will on some of the larger cable companies' parts, but it's a complicated technological issue for them to take this kind of sophisticated development and integrate it with some very difficult infrastructure issues, plant issues, inconsistent technology issues. And that tends to be what has slowed that down. In the meantime, as a policy matter, the FCC has said just what you've said. We want third parties who are capable of providing a better experience than the operator has provided to have the ability to do that. And so our whole retail business is based on somebody being able to get from Comcast or some other cable operator, a CableCard to stick into that box, and give them that option. Now, that world has not been frictionfree. And I'm sure many of your viewers here have had the experience of how difficult it is to sometimes get a CableCard installation in the past. It's improved, it's better, but there's still wrinkles in it. And so the FCC is coming back in a proposed rulemaking and looking yet again at those thirdparty box issues to assess what they need to do to create a more competitive experience so it is easier for people to get a box other than the one that the operator may provide. >> Moving onto boxes, actually, let's talk about your actual devices. You recently announced the Premiere and the Premiere XL. What is in there, simply put, that should make current TiVo users upgrade, or people who don't know TiVo, buy one? >> Well, first and foremost, it is the onebox solution. It is a cable box, it is a DVR box, it is a web box, a movie box and a music box, all in one box. And the fact of the matter is that when people used to look at TiVo, it was, well, I can go buy a TiVo or I can rent one from the cable company. Maybe it's just easier to rent one from the cable company. And the fact is that many thought they were actually getting it free from the cable company. In fact, if they pierced their bill and realized how costly it was, TiVo, even as just a DVR, was a better deal. But to be able to say, I can get a movie box in the world of Amazon, the world of Blockbuster, the world of Netflix, a WebBox and YouTube and the entirety of that, the music box capability we have and five million songs that really gives you the ability to get any song ever made whenever you want it. And you look at that and you say, oh, buy that, and gee, when I buy that, I'm effectively getting a DVR for free, along with the fact that it is just a totally different stunning experience. We haven't completed the user interface in all of its aspects. But the most used ones, the search, the browse, give you an ability to see all the real estate that an HD television screen gives us, a way to come to options, come to viewing choices that is about as fun as watching television itself, which was our goal, make it visually exciting, make it engaging, be able to do things that people have never been able to do before remarkably, given that television has been around for 60 years. Like I just want to see Oscar movies. Well, try to go on a settop box of any kind and say, just give me a collection of Oscar movies from a particular set of years that I want to see, you think that would be one of the easiest things to do, since it's such an obvious pop reference culture way for people to come to their choice. You can't do it. TiVo makes it easy, simple. >> So people love TiVo. When they have TiVo, they definitely love it. Although some of the early reviews on the Premiere have suggested that the reviewers feel like it's maybe not fully baked or it's not as much of a revolution as they were hoping for. Was it a little bit rushed? Or is it kind of just a beta? >> Well, it's much more in the beta, because it really gives you a whole different experience that's quite engaging and compelling. And I think that an awful lot of the reviews were quite good and quite positive. Did we know when we launched it that we weren't going to have all the pages of the interface redone? Yes, we did, but we felt that the critical browse and search experience so created a whole new way to think about presenting television, that it was worth getting that out in the marketplace. Do we know that there are a lot of other things we want to do with this, and where we are now is just the beginning? Absolutely. One of those things is just the whole flash basis of what we built, which create a whole platform for thirdparty user applications into the settop box, where TiVo doesn't have to be the creator of them, but a robust community of developers can be. That's one of the things down the road that we think will be quite exciting to introduce. >> Oh, really? So TiVo will move to like a little bit of an app store model? >> I think we will have application choice that is part of this that will allow people to say, hey, there are third parties out there creating some pretty exciting things that I can bring into my TiVo world. And with that, we think we expand the whole notion of what a settop box does. But you had to start from a beginning of framing an experience, showing people those capabilities. People have to grow with this experience. I think if we introduced all that today, it would kind of be ahead of the marketplace. So, yes, there's a lot more for us to do, but what we introduced so far we think is a lot of innovation that people will enjoy for the time being. >> So all of a sudden, you know, when the Series3 came out, there was no talk of overthetop TV or Roku or Boxee or Hulu. Now, suddenly you're facing kind of a situation in which settop boxes seem to be the new black. How do you counter those kinds of threats? And then how do you respond to, you know, our users who say you're the only ones still charging a monthly fee? >> Well, when you think about what we provide, again, it's many things. And all those other solutions you mentioned do not integrate the world of traditional linear television with this new world of broadband choice. And that's critical to us, because it's a whole difference experience to be watching The Office and have the YouTube clips related to The Office, the music videos or interviews with casts or cast members or other things, right there at your fingertips right there. That takes the existing world of television and the new world of television, presents them in one easy interface off of one remote. Nobody else is doing that. And there are many, many examples of how we do that that just takes the whole viewing experience and expands it exponentially. The notion that broadband, in some way, or I should say overthetop solutions, are available in other forms, is true. But the fact is that when we provide that, we're providing many different solutions, many different, you know, as I said, the movie box, the web box, the music box, and in so providing that, we're actually give you the DVR for free. Now, everybody has to pay a for DVR today, whether you get it from a satellite company or a cable company or from us. >> You could use Media Center. >> What's that? >> You could use Media Center. >> You could, which is a little bit of a >> I have to throw that in there or else I'll get the email. >> Very niche, techie way to go about it. >> That would be my group, though. >> But in terms of how most people go about getting DVR service, there is a subscription fee for that. When you think about what we provide by way of an overthetop solution, yes, you have to buy a box to achieve that. There are other ways you can buy a box. But we're the allinone solution. And we're the only linear and broadband integration solution. >> And do you see TiVo? Because, I mean, now that, you know, there is this ability to integrate so much web content, to search it, and to potentially bring an HD antenna into your house, do you see TiVo as sort of an overthetop solution, something that could get consumers to dump their cable? >> Well, we aren't about giving people simply an overthetop solution. There are other ways to do that. But when you think about where the television world is today, which is still the vast majority of viewing is on linear channels, traditional TV channels, that we're about giving people a better way to experience that while opening up the world of overthetop, and doing it so you don't have to have multiple boxes and multiple remotes and you're not sure if you're searching for something if you've got to search for it in one box versus another. We give it to you all in one place. And that is the world we're about. And we do that for operators, we do it for people in retail. Could you use us simply as an overthetop device if you wanted to? You could. But the fact is that that really solves for a very limited part of what people come to the television set for. We think the whole point is to create a single, universal experience, provide all this functionality in one box, provide a user interface that you don't care where something's coming from, you don't care if it's broadband, broadcast cable, you just want to be able to get it, and you want to be able to get it easily and quickly, and to solve for that. The idea that there will be partial solutions out there, we know. The idea that there will be solutions that have, you know, where some people will have five boxes and five remotes, and if they want to go through the trouble of that, there are many ways you can get there, we're about providing the one simple easy allinone solution. >> So I have to ask you, because it is simple and easy and allinone, except that some of our users that complained that, how come there's no builtin WiFi? And how come that awesome QWERTY remote costs extra? >> Well, that remote, when it becomes available, is something that we think people will love enough that the extra charge for that will not be seen as a burden. We think it will really enhance the speed of the experience, and therefore, something people will very much look to. We figured that what we wanted to do was come out with this allinone experience and expand storage, but keep all our pricing where it had been. And, in fact, for the extra storage version, actually bring the price down. And so we had to make certain decisions along the way as to what we would build in and what would be an easy addon experience, as the WiFi adapter always had been. And that's where we made that decision. The good thing about what we've been doing in TiVo is constantly bringing down price or building in more features. We've been highly sensitive to that. And that continues to be a direction that we will look to maintain as a theme. But it was a key way of our being able to create all this value and not raise our pricing. >> And I know people, another thing they're interested in is this idea of whole home streaming. I mean, are these things that you'll beobviously you can't build in WiFi after the fact, but will you be able to build in functionality like whole home streaming down the road? >> Well, we pioneered the whole issue of DVRs talking to each other so you could have a multiroom solution. There are certainly some opportunities for us to take the whole home solution, the multiset viewing experience, and go beyond where we are today of simply two DVRs talking to each other, and that's very much a part of our roadmap, and something we'll be able to talk more about in the future. >> Okay, and then I just have one suggestion, because I recently set one up. If you could make it so that I could just use the web to transfer my todo list and my season pass list to a new TiVo, that would be awesome. You can talk to someone about that. >> You are not alone in that request. And believe me, it has registered that that would be a highly popular feature. So thank you for reminding us. >> I've got to do what I can while I have you in the room. >> Well, fully appropriate. You have an audience that we get a lot of good input from and a lot of people who care deeply about where television and technology come together and how that experience can be improved, and we get some of our best suggestions really from the enthusiasts of the TiVo community who have lived with it, love it, but want it to be even more than it is, and that's constantly what we strive to do, is to take those comments and take that input and then turn it around in the next rev of products. So if it isn't too corny to say, stay tuned. >> All right, well, I know people were excited about this interview, and obviously you'll be able to continue the conversation over at CNET.com slash Conversations. Thank you so much again. >> Thanks for having me. >> And thank you, everyone, for watching. ^M00:22:30 [ Music ]

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