TiVo Premiere hits shelves, making couch potatodom even more appealing

TiVo exec says Premiere--with a totally new interface and a single box and remote for music, web, movies, videos and eventually Facebook and Twitter--is about 'revolutionizing television.
Written by Melanie D.G. Kaplan, Inactive

The TiVo Premier and TiVo Premiere XL boxes hit the shelves at Best Buy yesterday. To mark the launch, I talked to TiVo, Inc. Senior Vice President of Corporate Development & Strategy Naveen Chopra, who is responsible for creating the company’s overall strategy and developing partnerships for new features and content partners.

The TiVo Premiere allows us to combine access to cable programming, movies, web video and music in one box. What trends were you seeing that set the stage for its creation?

In the broader market, people are watching all sorts of video and entertainment, primarily through their PCs—Amazon downloads, YouTube, Hulu--and that has clearly demonstrated that there’s a wealth of content and a convenience in terms of how people consume the content that hasn’t been matched by traditional television.

There are many devices intended to make Internet content available through the television set. There’s Apple TV, Boxee Box, Roku—but the challenge we’ve seen is that the vast majority of those devices don’t pull in the traditional linear components, which is still important to television viewing. If you want to watch a baseball game, Oscar coverage, current episode of Grey’s Anatomy, we’re the only consumer product out there unifying both those elements. The other devices have a totally different user interface, and you pick up a different remote. Our customers want one thing they can turn on, one user interface. They don’t want to switch over to another box when they switch over to YouTube.

So some of us are watching movies and TV on our computers, and now others will be watching YouTube videos on their TVs. Do you see a day when there will just be one combined TV-computer product at home?

Consumers will probably continue to have multiple devices and use them in different ways for different modes of interaction. They will continue to have a mobile device, TV and PC, but the mobile device will tend to be very personal and quick; the PC will be one-to-one but a more complicated user interaction model; and the television may be less one–to one. People talk about the 10-foot experience--you’re on the sofa with the remote control, so it’s not the precise navigation that you have on the PC.

To use Premiere, subscribers will need to buy the new box?

Yes. We do various promotions for our existing subscribers. It’s much the same as when a new iPhone comes out, you upgrade to the new model. It really has a lot of new capabilities--a new hardware platform and a totally new user interface. It’s built on Adobe Flash. It still has a lot of DNA that people associate with TiVo. We really view the TV experience becoming more and more empowered by content being delivered over the Internet instead of what we’ve traditionally thought of as television. TiVo Premiere is about revolutionizing television.

Tell me about your partnership with FrameChannel.

It’s a company that allows us to provide some new interactive and social media functionality on the TV set, most notably to people’s Twitter and Facebook feeds. It’s a great example of how people will use Facebook on the television set differently than they’d use it on the PC. They won’t enter a lot of text. On the TV set it’s a much more passive experience, where they can see the news feeds, read updates.

But this isn’t available on Premiere yet?

Not yet, and we haven’t announced [the date], but we update fairly frequently. What is available now is Pandora, which means you can set it up on your TV in the living room, sit back and listen to music Pandora has chosen for you. (* see editor's note)

How many subscribers do you have?

About three million.

TiVo shipped its first DVR in 1999. How quickly did that take off, and what do you expect for Premiere?

It’s an interesting parallel. DVR took a while to take off. Probably for three to four years it was considered an early adopter, techie product. Part of it was explaining to consumers why they needed this device. Then they started to understand the time-shifting capability, they realized how revolutionary it was, and they became highly dependent on it. You heard stories about people being unwilling to give up their TiVo.

And today?

We’ve graduated to a new level. DVR is in only about 35 percent of all television homes, but most analysts believe that will get to 55 to 60 percent over the next three to four years. In light of that, the U.S. is still well ahead of the rest of the world in DVD penetration. These changes tend to happen relatively slowly, but the pace we’ve seen in online viewing is at a totally different pace. If you’d taken a snapshot two years ago, there were very few ways to download movies to your PC. That has changed very rapidly. Time scales [between consumers demand and product availability] will start to blend.

The television set is not a device that gets replaced as quickly as PCs or mobile devices. And people are somewhat reluctant to change boxes from beneath their TV set. Those are all challenges.

All those wires are a big obstacle.

Things are definitely getting easier. You’ve got the standard HDMI—one cable to connect the box to the TV set—rather than two to five cables in the past. I think we’re a ways from wireless power.

I assume you’ve been testing out Premiere at your home for a while. How do you use the technology?

Much like other TiVo subscribers, I can’t recall the last time we watched something when it was actually on television. We time shift almost everything, which gives us a great deal of convenience and makes it easier to spend time with the family. There's been some shows we’ve never had a chance to get into, and after hearing people talk about them, we get on TiVo and watch the first season, which may have been two years ago.

What shows?

The two we’ve gotten most connected to are Mad Men and Friday Night Lights.

*Editor's note: Chopra misspoke; Pandora will not be available on the TiVo Premiere until the later half of 2010.

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