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TiVo Takes Aim With Bolt

Mari Silbey
9/30/2015

TV has shattered into a million fragments, and TiVo wants to put them all back together again.

Long after TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) first stole couch potato hearts, the DVR company is back with the TiVo Bolt, a new retail product (with a funky physical design) that pulls together video from broadcast TV, pay-TV services and online apps in one "unified entertainment system." More importantly, it's a unified entertainment system that mixes in support for Ultra HD video, video transcoding for mobilizing content and a sure-to-be-controversial new feature that lets viewers skip an entire series of commercials with the single click of a button.

Being able to create a unified interface spanning multiple video services is one of the major arguments that TiVo used with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently when it asserted that pay-TV content should be available separately from a pay-TV provider's service. (See DSTAC: 2 Opposing Views on the Future of TV.)

Today, TiVo makes the unified experience possible through the combined use of CableCARD technology, individual deals with Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Cox Communications Inc. for access to on-demand content and coordination with streaming app providers like Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) and Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN). However, it's an approach that TiVo has spent years making possible, and one that could be threatened if pay-TV providers were to lock their content up in app form. TiVo confirms that "linear television would not be available in BOLT (or any 3rd party DVR) if cable content went 'app only.'"

Without access to critical TV content, TiVo would have a hard time creating innovative new features like a search function that shows how to access a particular piece of content in the most convenient way possible -- even if that means pointing consumers away from their cable feeds.


Want to know more about the impact of web services on the pay-TV sector? Check out our dedicated OTT services content channel here on Light Reading.


Speaking of new features, TiVo is joining the Amazon Fire TV with the launch of support for 4K UHD content on the Bolt DVR. As the company hinted earlier this month, it isn't interested in waiting for new standards to arrive before it makes UHD viewing possible. Actual UHD content is still limited, but that may change in 2016. In the meantime, there is some 4K video available via Netflix and YouTube. (See TiVo Hints at UHD Launch in Q3.)

The Bolt also lets users move content around with relative ease. In addition to making it possible to hook the Bolt up to a TiVo Mini (an IP client device) for multi-room viewing, TiVo enables content downloading and streaming to other IP devices with the use of embedded video transcoding capabilities. According to long-time tech reporter David Pogue, TiVo will boost the number of concurrent streams possible from the Bolt from one to two in November, and the company will add in access to TiVo recordings and even live TV from mobile devices outside the home next year.

The new feature sure to irk content providers the most, however, is TiVo's SkipMode function for the Bolt. SkipMode gives users the power to skip an entire series of commercials (in programming recorded between 4 p.m. and midnight on 20 top TV channels) with a single button press, rather than just fast-forwarding through them or jumping ahead in 30-second increments. This feature edges into territory first crossed by Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH) with its AutoHop technology. However, Pogue reports that TiVo believes it's on safer ground than Dish because users still have to click a button to make the commercial skipping happen. It remains to be seen if programmers agree with that assessment.

Complementing SkipMode, TiVo is also introducing QuickMode with the Bolt. Using QuickMode, viewers can watch recorded shows at a speed 30% faster than live viewing, and the audio pitch is corrected to make the faster speed easier on the ears.

The new Bolt is available online now, and will be at Best Buy and other select stores starting on October 4. A 500GB version is priced at $300 with a year of free service, while a version of the Bolt with a terabyte of storage comes with a price tag of $400 with the first year of service included.

— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading

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Joe Stanganelli
Joe Stanganelli
9/30/2015 | 9:06:26 PM
Re: Mixed Bag
> The more I think about the commercial skipping, the less I find it compelling. Hitting my 30-second skip button just isn't that hard. 

True, but there are many tech luxuries so many have become completely reliant on that it's easy to see this becoming a big deal.
Joe Stanganelli
Joe Stanganelli
9/30/2015 | 9:05:18 PM
Re: Mixed Bag
> Of course, doing so would raise the ire of the studios and TiVo has always tread cautiously in these matters. 

Still, little different than fast-forwarding on the old VHS.

I understand ads are the revenue source, but to a certain degree this is the cost of doing business -- and studios should instead be focused on ways to work with these realities rather than fight them.  (Think of the product placement in Mad Men, for instance.)
Joe Stanganelli
Joe Stanganelli
9/30/2015 | 9:02:52 PM
Lightning in a box
Looks like TiVo is aiming to take on Apple TV and similar devices/services with this more useful, more unified combination.

Now if only there was a way to outright skip online ads (without having to stare at a placeholder screen, as with ABP)...
msilbey
msilbey
9/30/2015 | 12:28:31 PM
Re: Mixed Bag
The more I think about the commercial skipping, the less I find it compelling. Hitting my 30-second skip button just isn't that hard. 

The idea of an Aereo edition is intriguing, however. Not for me. My household neeeds the big bundle. But for a lot of my neighbors. Here in Takoma Park, if people have TV at all, they mostly have whatever they can stream on their iPads and Xboxes. 
DaveZNF
DaveZNF
9/30/2015 | 11:48:57 AM
Mixed Bag
It's a bit of a mixed bag. Including a year of service should reduce the barrier to entry. But $15/mo or $150/yr after the fact may remain uncomfortable for many. Should they land a few more top tier apps like HBO, ESPN, and Sling TV, along with introducing what I believe to be a delayed "Aereo Edition" at a lower price point, they have a more compelling story to tell... for cord cutters. 

Personally, I wouldn't trade my 6-tuner, 3TB Roamio for a 4-tuner, 1-TB Bolt, despite 4k and some clever new software tricks. If the ad skipping were per show instead of per commercial interruption and perhaps more covered content, I'd be more interested. Of course, doing so would raise the ire of the studios and TiVo has always tread cautiously in these matters. 
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