Virgin Presses 'Play' on TiVo

TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) is taking its partnership act to the U.K. in a big way, notching a deal to develop a next-generation TV platform for Virgin Media Inc. (Nasdaq: VMED) that will include broadband-fed video services and applications.

TiVo, which announced the deal in concert with its third-quarter earnings, said it's on board to develop a "converged television and broadband interactive interface" for Virgin's upcoming high-definition set-top boxes. (See Virgin Media Picks TiVo.)

Virgin has not unveiled a roadmap for those boxes, but industry sources say the MSO is eager for hybrid transport gateways that can handle RF and IP-based video -- Virgin is ambitiously upgrading its content delivery network to handle more IP traffic -- and be capable of taking video from the Web. (See Gateway to (Video) Heaven?)

Virgin says the set-top platform, co-branded with TiVo, will debut sometime in 2010. (See Virgin Taps Cisco for Video Upgrade .)

The parties aren't disclosing financial terms, but the deal does make Virgin Media the exclusive distributor of TiVo services and technology in the U.K. TiVo, meanwhile, will be the exclusive provider of middleware and user interface software for Virgin's new line of boxes.

As for the potential for that broadband video component that could complement Virgin's access to BBC's iPlayer, TiVo has been eagerly trying to differentiate itself by expanding well beyond the traditional DVR model by coupling in premium content from domestic partners such as Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX), Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN), and Blockbuster Inc. .

Among recent examples overseas, Telecom New Zealand Ltd. (NYSE: NZT; New Zealand: TEL) is piping over-the-air and over-the-top broadband video to a new TiVo-made device. The kicker is that any Web video delivered to that device is exempt from Telecom New Zealand's strict monthly data consumption cap. (See Telecom NZ Scraps Caps for Web TV .)

Virgin Media doesn't place a consumption cap on monthly usage, but some of its cable modem tiers -- excluding Docsis 3.0 services -- are subject to traffic management techniques during certain hours. (See Virgin Takes Fight to Its DSL Rivals.)

TiVo's service provider strategy gets a lift out of this deal, as Virgin Media has about 3.71 million video subscribers. Other TiVo service partners include DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV), Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), Cox Communications Inc. , RCN Corp. , Evolution Broadband LLC , Seven Network Ltd. , and Cablevisión .

TiVo ended the third quarter with 2.73 million cumulative subscribers (1.53 million TiVo-owned, and 1.19 million owned in tandem with MSOs and broadcast partners). For the quarter, TiVo reported 34,000 gross subscriber ads, down from 44,000 in the year-ago period. (See TiVo Posts Q3.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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