Today, TiVo will announce technology that will let users transfer any TV show stored on their TiVo recorder hard drives to their iPod.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Are the networks thinking about some sort of scrambling technology?this enhancement of TiVo's TiVoToGo technology will be available to subscribers for a one-time, $15 to $30 fee - and is being made without Apple's approval. When I heard that, my "uh-oh" alarm went off.
That's the same Apple, you know, that is working with Disney's ABC-TV to make eppys of "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost" available for $1.99 apiece.
I have to think that as proprietary as both Apple and Disney are - and as sensitive to rights, fees and royalties as both of those companies are as well -the Apple-Disney deal had been massaged at a very high level to take into account the sensitivities of everyone from the Apple legal team to ("Desperate Housewives" co-star) Teri Hatcher's management team.
So when I read about deals that use Apple's technology without their approval, not only am I seeing a direct, in your face challenge to a deal that has been heavily vetted, but I am starting to envision meetings between one Mr. Jobs and Apple's corporate counsel. Not to mention meetings between one Mr. Iger (Disney CEO Robert Iger) and his legal eagles.
Then, you have AOL and Warner Brothers' deal to deliver on-demand TV programming starting in early 2006 through its In2TV broadband network. If you can record a program on TiVo at the time it originally airs, does that represent a competitive threat to In2TV's broadband revenue stream?
The networks can't like it, especially if there is no direct revenue flowing to them from such a technological arrangement as TiVo is proposing.
As the WSJ's Nick Wingfield and Brooks Barnes write today:
TiVo's move is also an affront to the industry's efforts to make consumers think of TV as a product that isn't free. Most of the deals networks and studios have made in this realm involve small downloading fees. TV companies don't expect to make substantial profits from fees -- at least in the near term -- but instead hope to train consumers to buy content.
I am wondering if the networks are thinking about some sort of scrambling technology that would make specific programs, or even whole channels, unintelligible to TiVo recorders unless those TV recorders could be authenticated as subscribed to added monthly fees that would be distributed to the networks.
That said, there is something about the production value of most TV shows that doesn't translate well to a small iPod screen. But there's more than enough disruptive threat to established business models to make me think that legal challenges will surely come.
There may be attempts in some quarters to carve out permission-based financial deals, but since none were announced by TiVo prior to them making this announcement, I think they would only be in a deal-making mode if legal heat were brought to bear.
Not commenting on the merits -or lack thereof- of such a dispute. But knowing lawyers, especially those for proprietary-minded companies and proprietary-minded industries, I strongly sense that legal challenges may be headed TiVo's way.