Viewer-friendly TV

Tivo's set-top box offers custom programming

The convergence of television and digital technology will meet again early next year with the debut of products from newly formed Tivo Inc., which has announced plans to release in January a new type of set-top box that will put programming into the hands of the viewer.

Tivo is hoping to “personalize” TV by providing viewers a simple way to record and play back programs of their choice. The company will also offer custom programming of its own, created in conjunction with broadcast and cable networks. The programming will be delivered from the Tivo headquarters via modem to the set-top box.

Far-reaching functions

Like another recently announced digital set-top box, called Replay, the Tivo product uses computer disc storage to record television programs. The greater functionality of the disc-storage systems will enable viewers greater flexibility in recording and playing programs. For example, it will be possible to pause a program for a few minutes during a regular broadcast, and then restart while the device continues to record.

While the time-shifting capability of VCRs offer TV viewers an important method to effectively create their own programming, the vast majority of Americans don’t use that function, said Tivo spokesman. The Tivo device, however, will simplify the recording process. The company will also work with networks and other broadcasters to create specialized Tivo programming.

Tivo users will pay a $10 monthly subscription charge for the company’s special programming and other services, in addition to the proposed $500 price of the box.

But Ed MacBeth, Tivo vice prexy of marketing, said the company hopes the unit price will drop to the $200-$300 range within a year. In addition, he said, the Tivo technology may become integrated as a low-cost option into other set-top boxes or new HDTVs.

And advertisers may start subsidizing some or part of the subscription fee, MacBeth said.

Tivo will generate some programming of its own — such as “best-of” showcases — that compiles offerings from across the channel spectrum.

But it will also work with network partners. Tivo already has an agreement with E! Entertainment to provide a special preview showcase, only available to Tivo subscribers, that will highlight E!’s upcoming program offerings.

Tivo said it is working with other television networks to create programming that would be delivered through the set-top device.

Tivo is also targeting a new market it calls “couch commerce,” by creating video catalogs that TV viewers can browse and, through a click of their remotes, make purchases. “It’s the next generation of video on demand,” said interactive technology analyst Gary Arlen. “It’s bringing the choice down to the set top, rather than leaving at the transmitter.”

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