TiVo’s ad-supported streaming service, TiVo Plus, launches today

TiVo’s answer to The Roku Channel, TiVo Plus, is launching today. The company had already unveiled its plans for ad-supported streaming earlier this month with the debut of two new models of its DVR, the TiVo Edge. Like The Roku Channel, TUBI, Vudu’s Movies on Us, and others, TiVo Plus is available to stream for free. But unlike others in this space, TiVo Plus is available exclusively to TiVo devices owners.

The service is enabled by a TiVo partnership with XUMO, Jukin Media and other publishers.

It includes a variety of content from sources like TMZ, America’s Funniest Home Videos, FilmRise, Outside TV+, PowerNation, FailArmy, Hell’s Kitchen | Kitchen Nightmares, Food52, Ameba, BatteryPOP, Baeble Music, Kid Genius, Journy, NatureVision, People are Awesome, Puddle Jumper, The Asylum, The Pet Collective, The Preview Channel, Unsolved Mysteries, Adventure Sports Network, AllTime, Complex, and others.

TiVo also has deals with Gannett, Loop Media, Revry, Newsy, Tastemade, Latido Music and Mobcrush to expand TiVo Plus even further.

The company says there will be “thousands” of movies and TV shows available in an app-free environment.

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Despite the obvious comparisons to The Roku Channel, the TiVo Plus interface isn’t as well-designed. Where Roku puts the focus on the content that’s available for free streaming, TiVo Plus highlights the publishers. The content is organized in generic and broad groupings, like “Movies and TV,” “Sports,” “Kids and Family,” “Entertainment, Comedy Pop Culture,” and others, instead of being more editorially curated or personalized to the viewer.

Though TiVo Plus is a free service, being a TiVo owner is not. For example, the new TiVo Edge DVR for cable customers is $400, followed by a $14.99 per month service fee, which can be paid either as an annual fee ($149.99) or all at once with a lifetime plan ($549.99).

The same DVR for cord-cutters is $350 and the service fee is $6.99 per month, or $69.99 per year and $249.99 for a lifetime fee.

The DVRs include support for Dolby Atmos, Dolby Vision HDR, 2TB of storage, TiVo’s OnePass, SkipMode (automatic commercial skip),

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This was the first time that TiVo lowered its subscriptions for the DVR for antenna users, in an effort to respond to market pressures. Most streaming media devices — like Fire TV, Roku, Apple TV, etc. — don’t require subscriptions, as the companies don’t license TV guide data for their users nor do they operate with cable TV-like business model involving ongoing service fees. That’s allowed customers, and particularly cord-cutters, to get comfortable with one-time purchase fees and has weakened TiVo’s position.

With a dwindling customer base, TiVo has turned to advertising — not only with its new ad-supported streaming service on its devices, but also with skippable pre-roll ads on DVR recordings, as recently reported and confirmed by TiVo. 

TiVo Plus is rolling out starting today and continuing over the next few weeks to customers with Series 6 devices with Experience 4 (TE4). It will be available on the Home screen, when it goes live.

TiVo prepares to split its business into two as it pursues sale

DVR maker TiVo is preparing to split its company into two businesses: one, focused on its products like its Bolt family of DVRs, and the other on its licensing and intellectual property businesses. The move will help to address some of the complexities with those businesses, TiVo Interim CEO Raghu Rau, explained, which may make it more attractive to buyers.

By splitting the company into two, TiVo may be able to “facilitate strategic transactions,” with interested parties, Rau said, on the company’s Q4 earnings call this week with investors.

The CEO also noted that TiVo was in active discussions with parties who were interested in each its product and its IP businesses, but the overall strategic review process – which began a year ago – was taking longer than TiVo had anticipated.

“So we do agree that this process has taken longer than we had hoped particularly because of the complexity and uniqueness of our two businesses,” Rau told investors. “We’re hoping that we’ll give you another update the next quarter based on the ongoing discussions that we are having. But beyond that, I’m not willing to put a time limit on when this will happen because the interest of the Board and the management is to ensure that we get the best outcome for the shareholders and that’s what this whole review process has been focused on,” he said.

The issue seems to be that potential acquirers may want either the licensing business or the products business, but not both.

According to a report from LightReading, that’s definitely the case with potential buyers, sources told them. In addition, TiVo was described as being reluctant to move forward on anything significant until it knew more about the outcomes of its legal battles with Comcast over licensing and patents.

Rau noted that TiVo hadn’t actually announced that TiVo is separating, only that it’s now working on the various logistics issues that have to be addressed in order to separate the business, like the preparation of historical financials, audits and understanding of tax implications.

The company also said it ruled out a “transformative acquisition” a couple of quarters into its ongoing strategic review process, which began in February 2018.

TiVo itself was acquired by Rovi Corp. for $1.1 billion in 2016, and the combined entity kept the name TiVo. The deal enhanced TiVo’s patent portfolio, and today 9 of the top 10 pay TV service providers in the U.S. license its portfolio of IP, except for Comcast, whose license lapsed (which is why it’s in the courts.)

Given the relative recency of that merger, TiVo’s decision to now split the business again strongly hints that it’s had trouble finding a deal for the company as it stands today.

TiVo remains a household name, thanks to its line of TiVo branded DVRs which cater to pay TV subscribers and cord cutters alike. But the company has made some missteps along the way, as it tried to keep up with the increasingly competitive market. For instance, in an effort to differentiate itself, its newer Bolt DVR adopted an odd, angled shape that some found aesthetically displeasing. That matters, of course, because these DVRs have to be on display in your living room. (Unlike, says, Amazon’s new Fire TV Recast which can be hidden away in a back room of the house.)

In addition, TiVo’s model which relies on monthly subscriptions (or a larger “lifetime” fee) are harder for consumers to stomach at a time when there’s so much choice among media devices.

Combined with the larger shift away from pay TV and consumer adoption of players like Roku and Amazon Fire TV – even among pay TV subscribers – TiVo’s business is not what it once was.

The company in its earnings reported this Tuesday brought in a loss of $2.33 per share to end fiscal year 2018. In the year-ago quarter, TiVo had posted a profit of 28 cents. Its revenue for the period was $168.46 million, 21 percent down from Q4 2017, and under analysts’ estimates of $173.85 million.

Alexa gets a DVR recording skill

Slowly but surely, Alexa’s becoming a more competent catchall video assistant. Back in January, Amazon launched its Video Skill API designed to offer more control over apps from cable and satellite companies. An update this week brings the ever-important ability to use the smart assistant to start recoding.

The skill joins a number of functions already available from top providers, including Dish, TiVo, and DIRECTV and Verizon — each of whom will likely be updating their Alexa skill set to reflect the new feature. The whole thing works pretty much as you’d expect.

Say, “Alexa, record the A’s game,” and the associated service will do just that. Or, you know, any baseball team, really. 

Also new in this update is the ability to jump directly into frequently used navigation options, like DVR interfaces or video services like Netflix orPrime, the example that Amazon gives in its post on the topic. Once in a specific program, users can ask it Alexa to do things like pause the show, and the assistant will comply.

The new skills are available now to developers and should be hitting some of the aforementioned services soon.

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