A Conversation with TiVo CEO Tom Rogers
In a sit-down with Molly Wood, TiVo's boss talks about when the DirecTV TiVo is coming (soon!), why TiVo isn't the standard offering for cable DVRs, and why the Premiere series isn't totally baked yet.
Molly Wood: Hi, I’m Molly Wood. Welcome to another episode of CNET Conversations. Today I’m very excited to be at TiVo where we’re speaking with CEO Tom Rogers. Thank you so much for having us here today.
Tom Rogers: Great to he here Molly. Thank you.
Molly Wood: We asked our users what they wanted to talk about and what they wanted to hear from you. And there was really, I would say one resounding issue about that Direct TV TiVo. What can you tell me?
Tom Rogers: That people are going to stay with this or you’re going to fast forward all the way through, you think.
Molly Wood: Looking back, I might have to ask you again and again because I’m not allowed to leave here without an answer.
Tom Rogers: Well Direct TV is an important client for us who we’re working hard with to come up with something by the latter part of this year and we’re very excited to be back in business with Direct TV which has been a major part of TiVo’s history in the past and a player that we have had a major break with and then have patch things up and we’re back together in business, so we’re excited to get things going. They have a new CEO who we think he’s just terrific particularly because he’s so consumer marketing oriented and we think we’re all about being able to connect more with the consumer and make the television experience better and friendlier, so for a lot of reasons we’re excited about that. But the timeframe continues to look like the latter part of this year.
Molly Wood: So can you give us any specifics about what it might look like, will there be you know, until now it’s been older versions of the software, the TiVo premier experience you’ve said would not necessarily be available. Do you know if it will potentially be a new box for those consumers?
Tom Rogers: Well it’ll certainly be a new box. I’m not going to discuss the specific features, the look and feel ma’am, but the main thing it’s intended to accomplish is to get people the look and feel of TiVo with all the functionality and channel capability of direct TV and being able to marry those in an experience that that today isn’t available to direct TV subscribers. So everybody should stay tuned and more to come.
Molly Wood: Okay and then of course the next major thing people want to know before we talk about the TiVo premiere hardwares, what’s going on with the Comcast deal. There’s been talk of the true two-way solution, talk of you know, there was an actual TiVo unit role out in New England and then what’s going on there?
Tom Rogers: Well, that continues to be available in New England but it was put together with what we would call pre true two-way technology behind it. And as you know the bigger players in the cable industry are moving to true two-way and are very focused on the role out of true two-way to markets and they’re paying us to devleop a true two-way version of TiVo which we are in the midst stuff. I think the issue for the cable industry has been the true two-way has been a longer project and many of the mode of light and as a result are future deployment which is somewhat connected to that true two-way activity as been somewhat slowed but we’re also quite hopeful that what we’re be able to offer today to consumers is something that the cable industry is increasingly finding benefits in and makes us optimistic that there would be some oportunities there for us to proceed with that are not yet fully visible to the world. So there’s a lot for us we think by way of future opportunity with the cable industry the true two-way thing continues in development and if you’re lucky enough to live in New England you can get a downloadable version of TiVo up to your existing set up.
Molly Wood: So what about the box, I know you have a deal with our CN to distribute the actual TiVo premiere hardware, why haven’t you made a deal with Comcast or Time Warner to be you know instead of to supply Scientific America or Motorola? It seems to me that people would want that hardware.
Tom Rogers: Well, we have in fact some cable deals that are based on new premiere look and feel notably RCN and actually Virgin in the UK. In the case of RCN it actually does involve our hardware as well as our software and effectively turning our box into the equivalent of the cable provisions set up and that is a conversation that has the increasing traction with the cable industry. Forget about the top biggest guys in the industry a minute but most of the rest don’t have true two-way as an option. And were sitting there looking at the world that is increasingly about how do you bring broadband choice to the television screen and they’re not being any great technological solution available for them to do that and we find ourselves front and center with a number of operators as a key means of trying to do that and I think people were watching the RCN apointment which will be taking place over the next few months as a way to really get comfortable with the fact that we do have a fully baked cable solutions. So your points will take it.
Molly Wood: And do you think that that is the future because I think consumers at this point, some of them see CableCARD or true two-way as a little bit of a clue to at least something that they’re just aren’t familiar with.
Tom Rogers: Well true two-way was supposed to deal with the fact that Motorolas and Cisco’s, the incumbent cable box providers were not creating enough robust user experience, not enough applications for the cable industry to really take its whole viewing experience to the next level. And true two-way was a way at picking that out of the box and into a software realm where there was set of applications could be made available so it could be a much more robust cable experience. With true-two way having slowed down, you do have this whole issue of how is the cable industry going to strategically respond to world of broadband and traditional television merging and our future seems to be very much about being able to provide answers to operators. Look we can provide a retail solution, we can take that retail solution as I describe with RCN and turn it into a cable box. We can take that software that’s in that and take it out of the box, built it into a third party box which is for instance what we’re doing with Virgin Cable or we can do what we’re doing with Comcast which is take a box that already has software loaded in it that we had absolutely nothing to do with and upload our software as an alternative and the fact that we have that man y ways to be able to distribute the retail one being CableCARD based and therefore suitable for someone who’se otherwise a cable subscriber but once they’re gotten by their own box really gives us a lot of flexibility in terms of our future as how we actually get the TiVo experience in front of users.
Molly Wood: And then possibly another area of flexibility is you know obviously there have been recent positive developments for you in the area that the patent lawsuit, the decisions in favor of you against—now I know there’s ongoing litigation but is that another avenue basically for you that you may, in the future become a license or of the intellectual property behind TiVo and maybe not so much of a box dealer.
Tom Rogers: Well, what we view oursleves us is a company that frames the viewing experience across television Broadway. It’s going way beyond the DVR to the entirety of the television experience. Well recording is one way that you contribute to that viewing experience but its one of a broader array of ways of doing that. And the IP that we have is certainly a very important component of our strength as a company in providing that and people recognizing the value we bring to the table. But our goal has always been commercial relationships where we can get the TiVo look and feel out there and sometimes hardware, wrapping it in a hardware is a valuable way to do that if we can create a software solution that doesn’t require a hardware, we’re happy to do that but it’s all about what we bring to the table overall that allows us to drive broad distribution for TiVo.
Molly Wood: Why do you think that the, you know this is irrelevant but why do you think the Amazons and some of the cable companies are so resistant to adopting this sort of more consumer friendly interface. Frankly I mean I feel like in a world where TiVo exists why do I ever have to have a Comcast DVR?
Tom Rogers: Well I think that Comcast has been very interested in bringing a federal alternative to the table and have worked with us in a lot of development fronts and are quite inspired by what we’re able to do for the consumer. I don’t think it’s been a lack of will on some of the larger cable company’s parts but it’s a complicated tehnological issue for them to take this kind of sophisticated develoment and they integrate it with some very difficult infrastructue issues, plant issues, inconsistent technology issues and that tends to be what has slowed back down.
In the meantime as a policy matter, the FCC has said just what you said, we want third parties who were capable of providing a better experience and the operator has provided to have the ability to do that. And so our whole retail business is based on somebody being abe to get from Comcast or some other cable operator or cable car to stick into that box and give them that option. Now that world has not been friction-free and I’m sure many of your viewers here have had the experience of how difficult it is to sometimes get a CableCARD installation in the past. It has improved its better but there are still wrinkles in. So the FCC is coming back in a proposed rulemakin g and looking yet again at those third party box issues to assess what they need to do to create a more competitve experience so it would be easier for people to get a box other than the one that the operator may provide.
Molly Wood: Moving on to the box because actually let’s talk about your actual devices, you’re listing as the premiere and thepremiere excel. What is in there simply put that should make current TiVo users opgrade or people who don’t know TiVo buy one.
Tom Rogers: Well first and foremost it is the one box solution. It is a cable box, it is a DVR box, it is a web box, a movie box and a music box all in one box. And the fact of the matter is that when people you still look at TiVo it was “Well I can go buy a TiVo or I can rent one for the cable company. Maybe, it’s just easier to rent one from the cable company.” And the fact is that many thought they would actually be getting it free from the cable company. In fact that they pierce their bill and realized how costly it was. TiVo even is just a DVR which is a better deal. But to be able to say I’ll get a movie box in the world of Amazon, in the world of Blockbuster, the world of Netflix, a web box and YouTube and the entirety of that, the music box capability we have and $5 million songs that really give you the ability to get any song whenever made, whenever you want it. And when you look at that and you say, “I’ll buy that” and when I buy that I’m effectively getting a DVR for free along with the fact that it is a totally different stunning experience.
We haven’t completed the user interface in all of its aspects. But the most used ones, the search, the browse, gives you an ability to see in a—all the real estate that an HD television screen gives us, a way to come to options, come to viewing choices that is about as fun as watching television itself which was our goal, make it visually exciting, make it engaging, be able to do things that people have never been able to do before remarkably, given the television’s been around for six years like I just want to see Oscar movies. Well try to go on to setup box of any kind and say just give me a collection of Oscar movies from a particular set of years that I want to see, you think that would be one of the easiest things to do since it’s such an obvious pop reference culture way for people who come to their choice. You can’t do it. TiVo makes it easy, simple.
Molly Wood: So people love TiVo. When they have TiVo they definitely love it although some of the early reviews on the premiere have suggested that the reviewers still like it’s—maybe not fully big or it’s not as much of a revolution as they were hoping for it. Was it a little bit rushed or is it kind of just a beta.
Tom Rogers: Well it’s much more in the beta because it really gives you a whole different experience that’s quite engaging and compelling and I think that an awful, a lot of the reviews were quite good and quite positive. Did we know when we launched it that we weren’t going to have all the pages of the interface redone? Yes, we did. But we felt that critical browse and search experience so created the whole new way to think about presenting televisions that it was worth getting that out in the marketplace. Do we know that there are a lot of other things we want to do with this and where we are now is just the beginning absolutely. One of those things is just the whole flash basis of what we built which create a whole platform for third party user applications into the setup box where TiVo doesn’t have to be the creator of them but of robust community of developers can be as one of the things down the road that we think would be quite exciting to introduce.
Molly Wood: I really think so. TiVo will move to like a little bit of an upstore model.
Tom Rogers: I think we will have application choice that is part of this that will allow people to say “Hey, there are third parties out there creating some pretty exciting things that I can bring in to my TiVo world” and with that we think we expand the whole notion of what a setup box does. But you have to start from the beginning of framing an experience, showing people those capabilities. You got to—people have to grow with this experience. I think if we introduce all that today it would kind of be ahead of the marketplace, so yes, there’s a lot more of us to do but what we introduce so far we think is a lot of information that people will enjoy for the time being.
Molly Wood: So all of a sudden, you know the last, when the series three came out there was no talk of Over-the-Top TV or RoCo or Boxee or Hulu. Now, suddenly you’re facing kind of a situation in which they’re top acessing to be—in your block. How do you counter those kinds of threats and then how do you respond to people you know who are users who say you’re the only one still charging a monthly fee.
Tom Rogers: Well, when you think about what we provide. Again, it’s many things. And it’s not all those other solutions you mentioned do not integrate the world of traditional linear television with this new world of broadband choice. And that’s critical to us. Because it’s a whole different experience to be watching the office and have the YouTube clips related to the office, the music videos or interviews with cast or cast members or other things right there your fingertips, right there. That takes the existing world of television a new world of television present them in one easy interface offer one remote. Nobody else is doing that. There are many, many examples of how we do that that just takes the whole viewing experience and extends in exponentially. The notion that broadband in some way over or I should say over the top solutions are available in other forms is true. But the fact is that when we provide that we’re providing many different solutions, manydifferent you know and as I said, the movie box the web box, the music box, and in so providing that we’re actually giving you the DVR for free. Now everybody has to pay a fee for DVR today whether you get it from a satelite company or cable company or from us. And so we are--
Molly Wood: You could use media center.
Tom Rogers: What’s that?
Molly Wood: You could use media center.
Tom Rogers: You could which is a little bit of a—very niche techy way to go about it.
Molly Wood: That’ll be my group though.
Tom Rogers: But in terms of how most people go about getting DVR service, there is a subscription fee for that. When you think about what we provide by way of an over the top solution, yes, you have to buy a box to achieve that. There are other ways you can buy a box but we’re the all in one solution and we’re the only linear in broadband integration solution.
Molly Wood: And do you see TiVo because I mean now that you know there is visibility to integrate so much web content to search it and to potentially bring an HDN10 into your house. Do you see TiVo as sort of an over the top solution, something that could get consumer said dumpster cable.
Tom Rogers: Well, we aren’t about giving people simply an over the top solution. There are other ways to do that but when you think about where the television world is today which is still the vast majority of viewing is on linear channels, traditional TV channels that we’re about giving people a better way to experience that while opening it up off the world of over the top and doing it so you don’t have to have multiple boxes and multiple remotes and you’re not sure if you’re searching for something, if you’re got to search for it in one box versus another. We give it to you all in one place and that is the world we’re about and we do that for operators, we do it for people in retail. Could you use that simply as an over the top device if you wanted to? You could. But the fact is that that really solves for a very limited part of what people come to the television set for. We think the whole point is to create a single universal experience, provide all of this functionality in one box, provide a user interface that you don’t care where something is coming from, you don’t care whether it’s broadband, broadcast cable, you just want to be able to get it and you want to be able to get it easily and quickly and to solve for that. The idea that there will be partial solutions out there, we know the idea that there will be solutions that have you know some people will have five boxes and five remotes and if they want to go to the trouble of that there are many ways you can get there, we’re about providing the one simple easy all in one solution.
Molly Wood: So I have to ask you because it is simple and easy and all in one except that some of our users have complained that how come theirs is no built in Wi-Fi and how come that awesome courty remote cost extra.
Tom Rogers: Well that remote when it becomes available, it’s something that we think people will love enough that the extra charge for that will not be seen as a burden. We think it will really enhance the speed of the experience and therefore something people will very much look to. We figured that what we want to do is come out with this all in one experience and expense storage by keeping all our pricing where it had been and in fact for the extra storage version actually bring the price down and so we had to make certain decisions along the way as to what we would build in and what would be an easy add on experience as the Wi-FI adaptor always had been and that’s where we made that decision. The good thing about what we’ve been doing in TiVo is constantly bringing down price or building in more features, we’ve been highly sensitive to that and that continous to be a direction that we will look to maintain as a team but it was a key way of our being able to create all this value and not raise our pricing.
Molly Wood: And I know people, another thing they’re interested in is this idea of whole home streaming. I mean are these things that you’ll be obvioulsy again, building Wi-Fi after the fact but will you be able to build in functionality like whole home streaming down the road.
Tom Rogers: Well, we pionered the whole issue of DVR just talking to each other so you could have a multiroom solution. There are certainly some opportunities for us to take the whole home solution, the multiset viewing experience and go beyond where we are today of simply two DVR is talking to each other and that’s very much a part of our road map and something will be able to talk more about in the future.
Molly Wood: Okay, and then I just have one suggestion because I recently set one up. If you could make it so that I could just use the web to transfer my to do list and my seasonal past list to a new TiVo that would be awesome. You can talk to someone about that.
Tom Rogers: You are not alone in that request and believe me it is registered that that would be a highly popular feature. So thank you for reminding us.
Molly Wood: I got to do when I can while I have you in the room.
Tom Rogers: Well, fully appropriate you have an audience that we get a lot of good input from and a lot of people who cared deeply about where television and technology come together and how that experience can be improved and we get some of our best suggestions really from the enthusiast of the TiVo community who have live with it, love it but wanted it to be even more than it is and that’s constantly what we strive to do with take those comments and take that input and then turn it around in the next rev of products. If it isn’t two corny to say stay tuned.
Molly Wood: Well I know people were excited about this interview and obviously we’ll be able to continue the conversation over at cnet.com/conversations. Thank you so much again.
Tom Rogers: Thanks for having me.
Molly Wood: And thank you everyone for watching.
A Conversation with TiVo CEO Tom Rogers
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