How many times has this happened to you? You're watching your favorite show, which you recorded on your DVR, and right before the final joke or the big reveal, the recording cuts off and you miss the ultimate payoff? Why can't television get it right?
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a ruling against satellite TV company EchoStar, saying the company infringed on a DVR patent owned by TiVo. The ruling, which included an $94 million damage award and bans EchoStar from selling the product in question, says that EchoStar infringed on the "software" claims of the patent, but not on the "hardware" claims. EchoStar says that no customers will be affected by the ruling and that it already has a fix in place. After the ruling, TiVo's stock rose almost 30 percent to a new 52-week high. Why?
Netflix has ditched plans to enter the hardware market in favor of partnering with LG Electronics — and every other set-top box manufacturer on the planet. So far, Netflix's streaming subscription will support LG's combo Blu-ray and HD-DVD player and a standalone box, but it plans to market the service to makers of DVRs and game consoles. [Reuters]
Remember when TiVo ran ads where TV viewers defenestrated network executives? CEO Tom Rogers doesn't, either. Vultures have circled over the hardware maker ever since cable companies realized they, too, could make digital video recorders. Rogers has taken the hint. With an extreme business makeover, he's now selling Tivo as a media company built around selling ads, not skipping them. Now TiVo is offering networks a sweet deal: Give TiVo money in exchage for second-by-second ratings and a nifty gimmick that plants an advertiser's banner ad onto the screen of anyone fast forwarding through commercials.
"Ok, some kind of crazy shit is up with Time Warner Cable. Last night my DVR completely wiped itself, causing me to lose the latest 'America's Next Top Model' AND 'Gossip Girl.' A cursory survey tells me that the same inexplicable DVR-wiping occurred to other friends at different points in the week. Other friends say their boxes (heh) have been stuttering and stopping, which mine did before the great DVR incident of 10/11/07. WATCH THE IMPORTANT SHIT ON YOUR DVRs PEOPLE. Conspiracy is afoot." Everyone is so bilious today!
Comcast is finally starting to introduce digital video recorders with TiVo software, two years after announcing plans to do so. Existing boxes will be upgraded to make TiVo available, first in New England — all the better to record those Red Sox playoff games — and soon around the country. Comcast will charge subscribers a small extra fee for Tivo service. TiVo didn't respond to requests for comment, but we suspect its share of the payments are incredibly small compared to the hefty monthly fee TiVo charges its own subscribers. Any new cash, however, would be a boon for TiVo. Satellite and cable companies — including Comcast — have eaten into TiVo's market share by renting cheap DVRs to their customers. A relevant portion of a recent TiVo SEC filing is after the jump.
Vudu, the set-top box rumored to single-handedly topple both Netflix and digital video recorders, has, in reality, failed to impress. Katie Boehret, the Wall Street Journal's Walt-Mossberg-in-training, reviews the movie-downloading box which aspires to win over those too lazy to traipse over to the video store. The only problem is that Vudu has its own set of not-inconsiderable inconveniences. One needs a hard-wired Ethernet connection — no built-in Wi-Fi — to make it work. The service charges above market rate for movies. And the selection, tragically, is poor. Except for its on-screen ease of use, little separates it from Microsoft's Xbox 360 downloads or Sony's planned Playstation 3 store. Until Netflix puts its own box on the TV console, stick to mail-order DVDs, we say.
Everyone wants a piece of TiVo's living-room real estate. The maker of digital video recorders is going to have a tough time fending off Sony's PlayStation 3, Microsoft's Xbox 360, Netflix-in-a-box VuDu, Apple TV, and a host of other video-recording gadgets from its turf. No doubt this pending threat influenced TiVo to signal its intention to raise $100 million in fresh financing to fund expansion and development. It's going to need all the help it can get. One intriguing note: One of TiVo's listed financing options is debt. It's rare for a tech company to borrow money, instead of just selling shares, and the credit environment is hardly favorable. But it could be a last-ditch financing avenue if Wall Street has no appetite for more TiVo shares.
Sony's recent announcement that its PlayStation 3 console will soon act as a digital video recorder in Europe is little surprise to anyone following the industry. It's long been believed that the PS3 and Microsoft's Xbox 360 could act as DVRs. The real question is how this move will affect a soon-to-be crowded DVR marketplace. TiVo, the best-known DVR brand, has struggled financially as cable and satellite distributors released their own recorders. Although its future may be a bit brighter thanks to a recent licensing deal with Comcast and the potential of a renewed DirecTV contract, there's more competition for TiVo than ever — and from the unlikeliest of places.
DVD rental site Netflix is in the news for hiring human customer-service reps in a move away from automated support. But that's surely the least significant of Netflix's recruiting plans. A tipster whispers that Netflix is trying to hire away Apple engineers to work on a set-top box for movie downloads. Not surprising, after Netflix's alliance with TiVo fell apart, and the DVR maker turned to Amazon.com instead as a partner for movie downloads. And Netflix's hiring of ReplayTV founder Anthony Wood, who's thought by many to be the original creator of the digital video recorder, kept Netflix set-top box rumors alive this spring. But if Wood is now staffing up his team by poaching Apple engineers, that tells us Netflix is getting serious. Heard more? Drop us a line.