Video services

TiVo, Comcast Discount Targets HD Subs

TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) chief Tom Rogers says Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) is marketing the DVR pioneer's service with vigor in New England but says the companies are "sharpening" the offer by lopping off the extra fee for the TiVo option, though only to certain hi-def TV customers.

The offer, which applies to customers who sign up for Comcast's new "triple play" HD bundle, would put pricing for the TiVo enhancement on par with the MSO's "generic" HD-DVR offering, which runs $9.95 per month. Typically, adding TiVo to Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT)-made boxes in New England costs customers an additional $2.95 per month. (See Comcast's Hi-Def Triple Play .)

The move suggests that Comcast is trying to move the HD needle in the market and using TiVo as some bait, or that the Comcast-TiVo combo has been a less than stellar performer so far.

TiVo doesn't break out how many subs are coming way of the Comcast deal, originally announced in March 2005. Speaking on yesterday's earnings call, Rogers noted that TiVo doesn't have the rights to report those numbers. Comcast, which does hold those rights, has yet to say how many of its customers have opted for the ported cable TiVo service, which was launched in Boston a little over a year ago. (See Comcast Boots Up TiVo.)

Comcast is also getting ready to offer TiVo in Chicago. Cox Communications Inc. , which is still conducting tests out east, is still on track to introduce the TiVo service in the first half of this year, Rogers said. (See Cox Tees Up TiVo Test Bed , and Chi-Town Bound?)

TiVo had 3.3 million subs as of Jan. 31, losing 611,000 net subs during its last fiscal year, with revenues of $249.7 million, down 8 percent from the prior fiscal-year period. TiVo, thanks in large part to a court-ordered $104.6 million payment from EchoStar Corp. LLC (Nasdaq: SATS) last fall, posted a profit of $103.6 million. It finished the fiscal year with more than $200 million in cash and cash equivalents and no debt. (See TiVo Posts Q4.)

TiVo tees up cable VoD plan
Rogers also talked up some of TiVo's latest cable partnerships, including its software deal with Alticast Corp. and a cable video-on-demand (VoD) relationship with SeaChange International Inc. (Nasdaq: SEAC). (See TiVo Gets More Cable-Ready .)

On the SeaChange front, TiVo intends to make cable VoD services available on some stand-alone TiVo retail DVRs that can support CableCARDs, but the host box itself doesn't have an inherent ability to communicate upstream on the cable plant. Although future tru2way TiVo boxes will have these "two-way" capabilities, the SeaChange integration will ensure that TiVo's one-way devices can support cable VoD "without having to invest in a major porting software effort," Rogers said.

Rogers didn't go into much technical detail about how this would be done, but SeaChange director of product management Kim Wilson tells Cable Digital News that the plan is to use the Internet connection on the TiVo box as a return path to interface with the cable VoD system.

That connection will be used as the control return path to speak to the VoD servers and to set up the video streaming sessions, Wilson says, noting that SeaChange and TiVo started discussing the idea at last year's cable confab in New Orleans.

Cable VoD titles and other elements that would need to be tied into the TiVo user interface would be hosted by the box's Java-based HME (Home Media Engine), the same element that TiVo uses today for access to YouTube Inc. and Flickr.

"We're taking code we'd normally embed in a [cable] set-top and hosting it on this Java platform. It's fully integrated with the cable operator's VoD offering," Wilson says, noting that U.S. MSOs, as well as some international operators, are interested in this approach as they look for alternative DVR options.

This concept might also work for Digeo Inc. , which recently announced a retail CableCARD-based HD-DVR that doesn't support tru2way but does have a high-speed Internet port. (See Digeo HD-DVR Enters Retail Waters .)

"We've looked at how to apply this architecture to other digital one-way set-top boxes to enable VoD," Wilson said.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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