TiVo starts search for new CEO

Ramsay vacating top spot in difficult year

TiVo topper Mike Ramsay is stepping aside as CEO as the digital video recording pioneer enters its toughest year yet amid intense, lower-cost competition.

Company said Wednesday that it has engaged exec search firm Howard Fischer Associates to find a replacement. Ramsay will remain as CEO until another topper is found, after which he will retain his position as chairman.

New CEO will guide TiVo into a new era. Company has recently all but acknowledged it can no longer compete in the mainstream DVR market in the face of low-cost competition from cable and satellite providers.

Its longtime partner DirecTV, which has provided the majority of TiVo subscribers, is planning to switch to its own branded DVR from News Corp. sister company NDS — a potentially serious blow to TiVo.

Though DirecTV is contractually obliged to continue offering TiVo to its subscribers through 2007, it’s expected to market only its own service when it launches later this year. TiVo has reportedly made efforts to extend the partnership but to no avail.

Instead, TiVo revealed at the Consumer Electronics Show last week, it’s positioning itself as a premium service with additional offerings such as broadband content, the ability to transfer shows to PCs and home networking.

With TiVo’s fortunes looking more dim than several years ago, many have speculated that the company will be acquired for its brand name and nearly 3 million subs. But in an interview with Reuters, Ramsay asserted that TiVo isn’t for sale.

Some on Wall Street took that as another troubling sign, with WR Hambrecht & Co. downgrading the company’s stock to “hold.” Analyst Ryan Hutchinson said he believes TiVo “currently lacks a compelling long-term distribution strategy.”

Nonetheless, TiVo shares closed up slightly at $4.23 Wednesday.