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Comcast, TiVo Blaze Different Set-Top Paths

TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) could eventually exit the set-top hardware business if it's successful with a new distribution strategy.

The idea is that TiVo would port its user interface and services to a range of hybrid QAM/IP video gateways and IP-only clients that are leased by cable operators and other pay-TV providers.

TiVo's approach, which differs from one being developed by Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) for MSO-leased devices, centers on its Hardware Porting Kit (HPK), a porting and middleware layer that has already been licensed by several top set-top makers, including Pace plc , Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Samsung Corp. and Technicolor (Euronext Paris: TCH; NYSE: TCH). Still notably absent from this group is Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)-owned Motorola Mobility, which remains the largest U.S. supplier of set-top boxes. (See Comcast's Set-Top Accelerator Gains Traction , Operators Flock to Comcast's IP Set-Top Kit and Comcast's IP Set-Top Club Expands.)

TiVo's HPK is already central to several recent deployments with service providers. Some recent examples include U.K.-based operator Virgin Media Inc. (Nasdaq: VMED), which is running TiVo on Samsung and Cisco boxes, while Spain's ONO relies on TiVo-powered Cisco boxes. In the U.S., DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV)'s new TiVo implementation is the result of the HPK. More recently, Mediacom Communications Corp. said it intends to market the XG1, a Pace-made gateway that bakes in TiVo's software and also sports six tuners and a Docsis 3.0 modem. (See Mediacom Goes With TiVo .)

David Sandford, vice president of TiVo's service provider business, says any TiVo app that runs on the company's Premiere HD-DVR will also run on boxes that uses the HPK.

TiVo has used Premiere hardware with CableCARD slots to help the company get its U.S. cable operator strategy off the ground, but it's a scenario that likely won't last forever. TiVo's strategy with the HPK may ultimately help the company exit the hardware business, at least when it comes to gateways and client devices that are leased by the cable operators.

"Our long-term plan has never been to be a hardware supplier to cable operators," Sandford says. "Over time that will happen ... but a lot of that will be driven by our customers."

Comcast's approach
Comcast is taking a different angle on IP-capable devices and gateways, with its Reference Design Kit (RDK), a pre-integrated bundle of software that's already being licensed by several chip- and set-top-makers and uses the reference implementation of the tru2way middleware.

Comcast's X1 platform, which centered on a new cloud-based interface and provides access to a few third-party apps, is the first deployed product that uses the RDK. (See Comcast's Set-Top Accelerator Gains Traction , Operators Flock to Comcast's IP Set-Top Kit, Comcast's IP Set-Top Club Expands and Comcast's Cloud TV Service Rolls Into Atlanta.)

While there are some technical differences between Comcast's and TiVo's approach, some of the intended results are somewhat similar. For example, they both rely on a broad set of hardware suppliers and aim to accelerate the product development cycle.

TiVo has no plans "right now" to develop products based on the Comcast RDK, Sandford says.

And, for now, TiVo's relationship with Comcast doesn't involve a leased model. Their work currently centers on making sure that TiVo's CableCARD-capable Premiere HD-DVRs can support Comcast's VoD service. They've completed that retail integration in several markets, including the Bay Area, Boston, Denver, Seattle, Sacramento, Calif., and Portland, Ore. (See Comcast Presses Play on TiVo VoD .)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 5:20:05 PM
re: Comcast, TiVo Blaze Different Set-Top Paths

That plus their apps have  certainly been the key draw in my view.  Now throw multi-screen into the mix, too. They've had to rely on the retail platform to form its initial strategy for the service providers, and that's been a painful process. 

But they've gotten some nice pickup among the tier 2/3s that gave tru2way the Heisman, and i think porting over to the Paces and Ciscos of the world *should* make that a bit easier for everyone.  Of course, that earlier attempt at porting to Motorola boxes with Comcast didn't work out so great in part because they were trying to fit TiVo onto OnRamp.  In this new porting world, the UI will be going onto more capable IP-connected boxes that can use TiVo's middleware, so the integration should be less of a headache. But I'll be curious to see how that experience matches up with how TiVo runs on its own hardware.     JB

AESerm 12/5/2012 | 5:20:05 PM
re: Comcast, TiVo Blaze Different Set-Top Paths

The UI has always been the main draw for the TiVo heads, hasn't it? (Granted, 2TB storage for latest model is strong.) But they're exiting hardware after a fashion anyway, down by half from high water mark (4m) in U.S. about six years ago. Not enough enthusiasts?

Cooper10 12/5/2012 | 5:19:58 PM
re: Comcast, TiVo Blaze Different Set-Top Paths

Part of the appeal of the TiVo user experience is the integration of traditional pay TV content with online content - Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, etc. all through a common interface and search/discovery capability.  However, it is unclear whether the operators that are porting the TiVo UI onto their leased HW will maintain access to those online content providers - or whether those content providers even have the rights to make their service available in that scenario. 

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