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Cable Technology Feature Article

September 24, 2014

TiVo: The 'Chosen One' for the Hybrid TV World?

By Tara Seals, TMCnet Contributor

As the pay-TV industry increasingly embraces cloud-based solutions and digital distribution, and consumers take up over-the-top (OTT) options like Netflix and Amazon Prime, the opportunity to provide a standardized operating system or centralized user interface to aggregate various video sources to the TV has become an important trend. And though many are ready to stake their claim on being the best option for doing so, one analyst makes the case that TiVo (News - Alert) “is the globe's only true, independent supplier of such a solution.”

The reasoning to arrive at TiVo as the Chosen One, as it were, to usher in an era of hybrid TV and consumer nirvana has several prongs. For one, in the past, the conversation about who controls the so-called “input one” has been an important one—and generally proprietary pay-TV gambits came out on top. OTT set-tops and tuners require the consumer to manually switch hardware from the existing STB—considered a hurdle from a usability standpoint, and a boon for the status quo. As such, MSOs have has no reason in the past to innovate when it comes to content sourcing for the TV. But that has changed.

“Highly regulated and bureaucratic, the global pay-TV industry has historically been impervious to innovation,” said Brandon Ferro, a hedge fund analyst at Only Prices Matter, in an analysis. “However, the rapid convergence of technology from other areas into our TVs is changing that dynamic.”

He added, “The global pay-TV industry represents the last bastion of tech innovation; increasingly TVs will necessitate, consumers will demand and operators will be incentivized to deliver an enhanced user experience in the form of a standardized operating system that unifies, aggregates and simplifies…convergence and its resulting complexity.”

Operators of course have an opportunity to embrace a hybrid TV approach that incorporates both OTT and managed content. And indeed, Ferro postulates that they have to do so, somehow.

“As consumers gain increased access to OTT content through their TVs they are more apt to watch reduced amounts of pay-TV, avoid video-on-demand services offered by MSOs or cancel their pay-TV subscriptions outright,” he writes. “Such has been the case in recent years as the pay-TV industry has experienced no growth or declines in pay-TV subscriptions. To prevent this dynamic from persisting MSOs are highly incentivized to integrate OTT services into their own offerings. Integration of pay-TV services with OTT content also necessitates a global, standardized operating system.”

And some have attempted this already using their own user interfaces (UIs). In perhaps the highest-profile of examples of this, Liberty Global has rolled out its Horizon UI in various markets. But despite 20 million European subscribers and its significant scope and resources, Liberty has had issues developing and deploying Horizon, managing to roll it out to just 600,000 so far.

“MSOs, both big and small, are finding that developing their own proprietary UI is difficult and costly,” Ferro noted.

And what of consumer favorites like Apple and Google (News - Alert)—which would, of course, love to work with MSOs to become the face of TV within the set-top for consumers? So far, attempts on the part of various tech giants to worm their way into the ecosystem have, famously, flopped.

“History shows that Google, Cisco and Intec have all attempted to do what TiVo is doing today, but have failed,” the analyst continued. “Google purchased Motorola (News - Alert) Mobility, which manufactures STBs, and attempted to combine Google software with STBs and force it on MSOs; the same goes for Cisco and its purchase of NDS and Scientific Atlanta, middleware and STB companies, respectively. Intec (News - Alert) sank millions into a failed internet-TV venture and Apple, rumored for years to be hard at work at cracking the TV ecosystem, has nothing to show for it. The common theme in these mega-tech failures is that MSOs view them as competitive threats.”

In contrast, TiVo enjoys a kind of favored nation status, with a user interface that MSOs deploy via the cloud on STBs provided to subscribers.

“Moving forward we believe the trend toward MSOs adopting TIVO vs. deploying their own solution will become the norm,” Ferro said. “History suggests that players who provide solutions that aggregate, simplify and make easy to navigate new technological ecosystems tend to see the greatest amount of value from that ecosystem accrue to them as it matures. Much the way Microosoft Windows simplified the complexity and chaos as innovation converged into the PC, and Google search did for the Web, we see TIVO's UI doing the same for the TV ecosystem over time.”

So far, where it’s been deployed, it’s been successful. Take the Liberty Horizon example: Liberty has stated its intention to keep TiVo in the mix at Virgin Media (News - Alert) in the UK, given the high levels of customer satisfaction with the service; it has penetrated 3 million Virgin subscribers, or 60 percent of the total, in only three years. Also, other MSOs such as Cogeco in Canada have recently announced plans to abandon efforts to develop their own UIs in favor of adopting TiVo.

“Most conflate TiVo with products such as AppleTV, Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire and Roku,” Ferro said. “All of the latter are pieces of hardware that plug into TVs and allow consumers to access limited amounts of OTT content. They do not represent standardized operating systems nor can they integrate OTT content with traditional pay-TV services. They offer but a single feature of what TiVo provides, and according to usage data, are already in decline.”

Not everyone may agree with his conclusion, but Ferro, in short, believes that there’s nothing but upside for TiVo—and that the rest of the pack may as well continue to focus on smartwatches and the like. It will also be the avatar of new business models, he argues.

 “By furnishing an elegant, standardized solution to a new, paradigm-shifting ecosystem, we fathom TiVo will do for the TV what Microsoft Windows did for the PC in the 80s and Google search did for the Web in the early 00s,” he continued. “In the process, we believe it will render anachronistic business models such as Nielsen's obsolete.”


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