RCN to Expand TiVo 'Premiere' Rollout

RCN Corp. is beginning to market TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO)'s new Premiere box as its primary DVR in and around Washington, D.C., and the competitive cable overbuilder -- the first MSO to sell the broadband-connected, high-end set-top -- plans to expand the rollout to New York and other cities soon.

Taking on Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), Cox Communications Inc. , and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) in the Washington area, RCN is offering Premiere for $19.95 per month to subscribers -- about $5 more than it charges customers to lease a somewhat generic Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) DVR.

Premiere integrates Web video and other digital content from sources such as Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX), Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN), Blockbuster Inc. , and Pandora Media Inc. TiVo's box will also be able to provide access to RCN's video-on-demand (VoD) thanks to earlier integration work TiVo did with SeaChange International Inc. (Nasdaq: SEAC), which happens to be RCN's primary VoD partner. (See TiVo Building tru2way Version of New Interface and New TiVo DVRs Built for Web & Cable Content.)

“What we’ve essentially done is use the broadband channel to communicate with RCN’s VoD service. We can browse their VoD content via the broadband interface,” says TiVo vice president of marketing and product management David Sandford. RCN subscribers with the Premiere DVR will see VoD movies displayed in the TiVo interface, he adds.

RCN plans to market Premiere to both new and existing customers. “This can be a powerful competitive weapon for them. They’re going to have, bar none, the most full featured DVR offering in the US,” Sandford boasts. Premiere allows subscribers to search linear TV, VoD, Web video, and titles stored to the box's DVR in a single interface, and it can also be programmed remotely.

RCN spokeswoman Michele Murphy says the company plans to expand the Premiere rollout to New York City within one month, where RCN competes with Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) and Verizon. She notes that RCN will begin offering the TiVo DVR in other of its markets, which include Boston, Philadelphia, and the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania, by the beginning of the fourth quarter.

Because the Premiere DVR requires a broadband Internet connection, RCN plans to continue to offer Motorola DVRs to subscribers that only buy video service from the MSO, according to Murphy.

In addition to pitching standalone Premiere DVRs to cable MSOs as their primary set-top, TiVo is working with Comcast to build a tru2way-compatible version of the Premiere interface that can run on DVRs from other set-tops vendors. (See TiVo Building tru2way Version of New Interface.)

Sandford says TiVo expects to complete the integration of the tru2way compatible version of Premiere “in the next several months.”

Some smaller operators have also expressed interest in buying the standalone Premiere DVR for their customers, Sandford claims. “There are a lot of operators, particularly smaller operators that aren’t in the position to make a huge investment in tru2way or their own guide development. They’re going to be in a competitive situation. I think for them this is a very attractive option.” (See TiVo Covers Its Cable Bases .)

TiVo plans to demonstrate the Premiere DVR at the company’s booth at The Cable Show convention next week in Los Angeles. Sandford says the demo will also feature VoD content powered by SeaChange running on the DVR.

— Steve Donohue, Special to Light Reading Cable

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