Remember TiVo? In the days of pre-cutting cables, the company’s DVRs were ubiquitous – so much so that the phrase “TiVo it” was used interchangeably to mean recording a TV show. Now the company is catching on as a third-party smart interface alternative to Google, Amazon and Roku on the best 4K TVs, with the first TiVo-enabled sets expected to arrive in mid-2023 in Europe and the US.
This information comes from the streaming business publication next TVwhich, directly quoting TiVo parent Xperi CEO Jon Kirchner, also broke the news that the company’s TiVo Stream platform will appear in sets from a “leading tier 2 provider that manufactures various TV sets under various brands”.
Making TiVo Stream a widely available smart TV interface option pits the company against Google, Amazon and Roku, all of which have been regularly leveraged by tier 2 TV brands to run their respective Google and Android TV, Fire TV and Roku TV. OS platforms.
It also launches TiVo in a very crowded smart TV environment: in addition to the current options from Google, Amazon and Roku, sets from LG, Samsung, Hisense, Vizio, Panasonic and Philips all come with their own proprietary smart interface. None of them are particularly distinctive, however, and some can be downright annoying. For example, Samsung TV owners are required to set up a user account online to do something as simple as adding an app to their Tizen smart interface or tweaking its layout.
Compared to the proprietary interfaces offered by major TV brands, Google TV and Roku in particular have a clean look and feel and are easy to customize and search for content, including using voice control. Google, of course, requires the same account login for actions to take place, but Chrome/Gmail accounts are common, and so most people already live in the Google ecosystem.
Tivo doesn’t exactly arrive as a stranger to the world of TV streaming. The company’s TiVo Stream 4K, a $40 Android TV streaming box, has been around for several years and still sells TiVo Edge DVRs with cable TV and antenna-only connections that also provide integrated streaming from apps like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Voodoo, YouTube and more.
But Stream 4K has been eclipsed by other cheap streaming sticks from Roku and Amazon, while Edge is threatened by a 2020 FCC ruling that cable providers are no longer required to provide the CableCards used by Edge DVRs to tune in and record TV programs. Given the tenuous nature of its hardware business, it makes sense that the company is looking at other options, such as smart TV integration, to generate revenue.
Does TiVo have what it takes to be a smart TV player?
Between Roku and Google’s existing offerings, the third-party smart TV ecosystem was already crowded, and Amazon’s latest Fire TV introduction into that mix makes it seem like there are now more than enough options for device makers to turn to if they don’t want to create a proprietary platform.
Let’s now play TiVo in this smart TV whirlpool. In its favor, the company already has a deal in the works, so smart TVs with TiVo are on the way in 2023, whether anyone wants them or not. Its hardware business may have slumped with the advent of cable cutting, but the TiVo brand still has strong consumer recognition, even though people are now much more likely to stream than “TiVo” shows using a DVR.
As a former TiVo user for many years before cutting the wire, I was a fan of the TiVo interface and the remote used to control the company box. I also remember its search capabilities as being infinitely better than what was available on the DVR provided by my cable TV service. Given TiVo’s tradition of superior usability, there’s a good chance that the qualities that set it apart in the now-fading cable TV and DVR era will carry over to today’s smart TV and streaming.
It is important to emphasize at this point that the new TiVo we are talking about, which will appear on smart TVs, will not have any DVR-like features. In the words of Xperi CEO Kirchner – again quoted on Next TV – the next TiVo sets will be for “people looking for an OEM branded experience with TiVo, not looking for a TV with TiVo”.
Even so, apps like YouTube TV, fubo TV, Sling TV, Hulu with Live TV and others offer cloud-based DVR functions that allow subscribers to record and store live TV channels online for later streaming, in some cases at no additional cost. A TiVo-like feature could be built into a “TiVo-powered brand experience,” even if there are no current plans for that to happen.
If that happened, we’d take our old TiVo back to the TiVo, but this time without the clunky external decoder.