Jul 1, 2011

Photo by Mike Demers

It’s hard to believe that it’s almost been 3 years since TiVo announced that they were rekindling their relationship with DirectTV and yet consumers are still waiting for the DVR to drop. I’d say that even for TiVo, this kind of delay has to be some kind of record, except we’re also still waiting for the Comcast/TiVo DVR to launch.

Given the long lag time and complete radio silence by TiVo and DirectTV on the issue, I tuned into DirectTV’s 2nd quarter earnings call hungry for more information. Unfortunately, the call didn’t offer very many tasty morsels.

During the call, DirectTV’s CEO Michael White never actually mentioned TiVo by name, but did say that they the company planned on unveiling a new “high end” user interface in the fall (so far so good.) From the transcript of the call,

“the connected home experience is a fantastic experience. It’s going to get even better this fall with our new high-definition user interface and I think as we add more VOD titles, it’s just going to be more and more kind of pull from consumers I think for that experience and as I said, the good news is, we know it pays. It pays out because of the increased $2.50 in ARPU we get from it. But if we just kind of work in our way through some of the operational complexities of these, I think we’ve got a wireless capability that we’ll be launching this fall, as well as I think we’ll make it available to even more homes.”

He mentioned that this DVR would be entirely in high definition, would include multi-room functionality and would blow people away with it’s connected features. While it’s entirely possible that the DVR White is referring to, could be a generic update, a comment at the end of the call made me suspect that he was actually talking TiVo.

“we’ve got probably still some more work to do to fill in some more VOD content and really, with the HD user interface, really make that experience top for the consumer. I think we’re bringing Pandora, bringing in a bunch of things making it absolutely knock your socks off experience with the customer. And as I said, were already getting more than we had planned in ARPU lift out of those customers. So I feel great about the connected box strategy. I think we’re just working through some of the operational things.”

As far as I know, TiVo is currently the only DVR that provides support for Pandora.

On the surface this all may sound like good news to weary DirecTV customers, but once you actually dive into the details things get much less exciting. During the Q&A, White clarified that by “fall”, DirectTV really meant “the 4th quarter” and would later clarify that by the 4th quarter, he really meant closer to midway through it, since they didn’t want analysts to consider any revenue impact from a launch. Worst of all though, it sounds like DirectTV is following in Comcast’s footsteps, by limiting initial availability of the “new features” to select geographic regions.

“I think the nomad product, which is the ability to port your content from your DVR onto your iPad, I expect you’ll see that in some geographies before the end of the year, will probably going to do with in a fewer geographies to make sure that that’s working flawlessly before we roll it out so rollout might be in 2012. But you’ll see that before the end of the year, the high-definition user interface comes in in the fourth quarter.”

Given that it’s taken Comcast at least two years to expand out of the New England markets, I can’t help but wonder if there is some kind of clause in TiVo’s contract that encourages these sorts of soft launches. Previously, TiVo CEO Tom Rogers had argued that one of the benefits to TiVo being a software company is that they could download their software all at once to their partners and achieve tremendous scale almost overnight. As these rollout continue to “launch” though, this doesn’t look like a very accurate expectation for customers or shareholders to have.

While I’m sure that TiVo is very busy counting all of the money that they’ve made from their business dealings with Dish, it’s frustrating to see “legitimate business partners” continue to pay peanuts for development deals, when it’s clear that they’re only really interested in the patent protection. Instead of being upfront and honest with their customers though, both companies continue to string them along, while we’re forced to wait unreasonable periods for a product that will be obsolete before it’s even launched. For TiVo fans that are still holding out for DirectTV support, the only advice I can offer, is to go pick up a TiVo premiere, a set of HD antennas and make sure to tell DirecTV that you’ll enjoy saving hundreds of dollars per year while enjoying a better DVR.