LAS VEGAS -- CES 2017 -- Given TiVo's retail brand, you'd think the company would have a lot to say at CES, but that's not the case this year. After officially merging the Rovi and TiVo entities four months ago, new TiVo is still in the process of integrating operations and nailing down a retail strategy that will rely far less heavily on hardware than in the past.
That said, TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) isn't abandoning its consumer origins. Even as it grows its business in the service provider space, TiVo is committed to maintaining a consumer presence -- in part to keep up that revenue stream, and in part to drive demand for the TiVo brand no matter whether it's delivered directly to consumers or through a service provider experience.
So what's TiVo got up its sleeve? Not much at CES, but the company is planning product launches for later this year. In a briefing here at the show, TiVo SVP and GM Michael Hawkey hinted at the likelihood of a natural language interface for TiVo solutions that might come in the form of a brand new product, but might also be added to legacy products via a new remote, or, more likely, through integration with products like Amazon's Echo hardware line.
"How do you get not just the natural language understanding [and] voice ability into a product, but literally how do you get the voice into the product?" questions Hawkey. "A remote swap-out? Something else that has a microphone? Something else in your house that has microphones? There's all kinds of ways to get it, but we have to do something, and there's a logical conclusion that voice will find its way into our consumer products this year."
As Hawkey suggests, if TiVo partners with Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) or Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) or Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) for voice integration, the point isn't to rely on one of those companies for the intelligence powering TiVo user interactions. TiVo is quite confident in its own cloud-based capabilities on that front, both because of its massive metadata assets and the machine learning technologies that TiVo gained when it (as Rovi) bought Veveo in 2014. (See Rovi Snaps Up Veveo.)
What TiVo needs is the physical microphone in its customers' homes, and that's something any number of partners could provide.
But what about product innovations beyond voice control? In the service provider space, TiVo has readily moved away from hardware in order to port its software experience to a wide range of video devices manufactured by others. Already, TiVo has its user interface on set-top boxes from Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS), Technicolor (Euronext Paris: TCH; NYSE: TCH), Evolution Digital LLC and more. As Hawkey notes, it's reasonable to presume that TiVo will soon take a similar approach in retail.
"We used to build the boxes with operators," says Hawkey. "We've transitioned that off to Technicolor, to Arris, to Evolution. That's a logical progression that at some point in time maybe I could do the same thing in the consumer [environment]."
As for the benefits of the consumer channel more broadly, Hawkey says, "It's a proving ground. It's a direct relationship with the consumer. It gives me positive and negative feedback to build better products, and there's an avenue for our brand and our technologies, direct to consumer, that the company's very happy about. The roadmap, we're not announcing any of our consumer offerings at the Consumer Electronics Show, but there are some good things coming this year for consumers."
The hints from Hawkey echo what TiVo executives have already said publicly. The company is very committed to retail, but not to selling its own hardware in the future. And that means that 2017 is likely the year that TiVo starts selling TiVo-branded products at retail that brandish the TiVo UI and connect to TiVo's cloud, but are also not made by TiVo as a manufacturer. (See TiVo May Exit Retail Hardware Business.)
One more tidbit. TiVo already has a 4K DVR on the market. Coming soon, expect to see a corresponding 4K TiVo Mini client box. So sources say.
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading