"?> Davis Freeberg's Digital Connection » Disclosure – I own stock in co. mentioned http://davisfreeberg.com Fri, 23 Sep 2011 19:32:38 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.3.1 TiVo Granted Patent For Burning TV Shows To DVD http://davisfreeberg.com/2011/08/17/tivo-granted-patent-for-burning-tv-shows-to-dvd/ http://davisfreeberg.com/2011/08/17/tivo-granted-patent-for-burning-tv-shows-to-dvd/#comments Wed, 17 Aug 2011 15:13:37 +0000 Davis http://davisfreeberg.com/?p=2285

Ahh, the DVD. Love it or hate it, it’s still one of the best ways to store data. I’ve yet to meet a hard drive that can survive for 5 years without failing, but as long you’re not using them for frisbees, the DVD can easily make it a decade or more without being damaged. There may be a question about whether or not we’ll have DVD players to play them with by then, but rest assured your data should be there.

Given my fondness for the scrappy little format, I thought it was interesting to see that TiVo was awarded a patent yesterday afternoon (Aug. 16th) for burning TV shows onto DVD. Just about anyone who has ever used a DVR has experienced hard drive related anxiety at one point or another. With the sheer amount of television out there, it’s easy to fall behind on your favorites and run out a space. Offloading programs to a DVD library is an excellent way to free up your hard drive without having to miss out on programming that you wanted to see. In the past, I’ve found this to be especially useful for archiving syndicated TV shows that aren’t always shown in their original order.

The abstract of the patent from TiVo’s application,

“According to an approach for storing digital content onto a DVD, digital content is received from a source, such as a DirecTV link, an over the air (OTA) broadcast, over a cable television link, or any other type of communications link, including the Internet. The digital content is formatted to comply with the MPEG standard to create MPEG digital content and stored on a non-volatile storage. Text-based information is received that describes one or more attributes of the received digital content. A set of DVD subpicture graphics is generated based upon the text-based information. The set of DVD subpicture graphics may represent a structure that can be navigated by a user when the DVD is played. The MPEG digital content is retrieved from the non-volatile storage, converted to DVD format and stored on the DVD with the DVD subpicture graphics. “

On the surface, the patent itself does seem a little bit obvious, but it’s also important to remember that it took the patent office almost 7 years to approve the application. Microsoft’s Media Center may have been using infringing :) on this technology for years, but I’m not sure that they had it in place prior to 2004. I think it’s also worth pointing out that even though TiVo now owns the patent on this technology, they don’t actually offer the service to their customers. Fortunately, the TiVo Community has managed to scrape together a way to do this on your own, but it would be nice to see a more elegant solution built directly into TiVo’s software.

Given it’s antique status, some may view this development as irrelevant, but because of the complex licensing issues that are tied to media, I believe that the DVD will have a much longer shelf life than most. When you consider how the studios are using artificial windows to try and dictate when you can and can’t watch certain things on Hulu and Netflix, it’s clear that if you don’t want to become a victim of disappearing windows, consumers will need the ability to archive content on their own.

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DirectTV Delays Nationwide Rollout of TiVo Until (at least) 2012 http://davisfreeberg.com/2011/08/04/directtv-delays-nationwide-rollout-of-tivo-until-at-least-2012/ http://davisfreeberg.com/2011/08/04/directtv-delays-nationwide-rollout-of-tivo-until-at-least-2012/#comments Thu, 04 Aug 2011 21:02:15 +0000 Davis http://davisfreeberg.com/?p=2255 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.

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Did Motorola Get Caught With A Smoking Gun? TiVo Demands Source Code Access To Secret DVRs http://davisfreeberg.com/2011/07/28/did-motorola-get-caught-with-a-smoking-gun-tivo-demands-source-code-access-to-secret-dvrs/ http://davisfreeberg.com/2011/07/28/did-motorola-get-caught-with-a-smoking-gun-tivo-demands-source-code-access-to-secret-dvrs/#comments Thu, 28 Jul 2011 21:37:45 +0000 Davis http://davisfreeberg.com/?p=2195 TiVo’s Motion To Compel Source Code

(Above you’ll find a copy of a motion to compel that TiVo filed against Motorola on July 22nd, 2011. On July 25th, the judge in the case gave Motorola 14 days to comply with the order or to explain their actions to the court. To view all of the exhibits, associated with the complaint, you may click on the following links: Declaration By TiVo’s Attorney, Court order requiring production of all source code, Motorola dodging TiVo’s phone calls, TiVo’s initial patent complaint against Verizon.) As a friendly reminder, I am both a TiVo customer and shareholder.

TiVo’s love quarrel with Echostar may have just come to an end, but they still have two more elephants lined up in the crosshairs of their gun and while I always hate to read too much into the legal tea leaves, recent action on one of the dockets, suggests that they may have just stunned one of them with a tranquilizer dart.

As part of their patent lawsuit against Verizon, TiVo had initially requested access to Verizon’s source code on their FIOS DVR. This kind of data makes it easier for TiVo to identify any potential infringement and would certainly be a key piece of evidence towards proving any patent violations. Now there are many reasons why Verizon might not want to turn over this kind of data, but where things start to get weird is that instead of objecting to the request, Verizon claimed they weren’t able to comply with it because Motorola was the one that developed their DVR. This seems fair enough, so in good faith TiVo began working with Motorola to obtain the data.

Fast forward through three months of stalling and Motorola finally turns over two different copies of their database to TiVo. The problem with this is that once TiVo started going over all the documents that they collected, they discovered that Motorola had actually developed “many more versions” of the source code using secret codes names like Burbank, Carlsbad, Del Mar and Cardiff. In total, TiVo believes that there are over 30 different models that Motorola has out there and after being stung with delay after delay over “software modifications” in their trial against Dish, it’s easy to understand why TiVo would want to exercise extreme due diligence on this one.

Once TiVo realized that Motorola was trying to pull off the old fumblerooskie play on them, they dragged Verizon and Motorola back into court and clarified that they wanted all of the source code data on their DVRs. The judge agreed and in March of this year, he ordered Motorola to release “without limitation all Deployed versions of Motorola’s Del Mar source code and all Deployed versions of any predecessor to the Del Mar source code, as well as associated Broadcom code.” [Note: Emphasis added by me]

After the subpoena, one would have really thought that this would be the end of it, but instead Motorola continued to try and string TiVo along. In the attached exhibits, TiVo demonstrated that they contacted Motorola numerous times to discuss the deficiency, yet Motorola seemed only willing to reply whenever TiVo threatened to flex their legal muscle in the case. At one point, Motorola even set up a conference call to deter TiVo from filing this motion to compel, but then opted to ditch out on the call (without even having the courtesy to cancel.)

While these sorts of petty issues won’t actually impact the case, they can still provide us with insight into the case. Motorola’s lack of responsiveness suggests a certain squirreliness on their part. Instead of portraying a company that is confident in their legal position, the attachments paint a portrait of a company that is desperately trying to do anything to avoid turning over this evidence. The very way that Motorola has treated TiVo over the last 8 months could be a primer on how to maximize passive aggressiveness by only using your caller ID. After considering TiVo’s frustration with moving the case forward and the lack of any real justifications for the delays, the judge gave Motorola a final deadline of 14 days to turn over the evidence in question or to demonstrate why they seem to feel that they don’t need to comply with the court’s instructions.

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Why Doesn’t AMC Want My Money? http://davisfreeberg.com/2011/07/05/why-doesnt-amc-want-my-money/ http://davisfreeberg.com/2011/07/05/why-doesnt-amc-want-my-money/#comments Tue, 05 Jul 2011 16:11:10 +0000 Davis http://davisfreeberg.com/2011/07/05/why-doesnt-amc-want-my-money/

AMC Empire
Originally uploaded by imoteph9

Most businesses are thrilled when someone wants to give them money, but for some crazy reason whenever you’re dealing with Hollywoodnomics, logic seems to get turned on it’s head. Case in point: MoviePass

I love the movies, in fact I’d argue that I’ve probably seen more films than 90% of the population. As a moviehound, you would think that I would be one of AMC’s best customer’s, but the truth is that in the last 5 years, I’ve only seen 2 movies in the theater. While there are a lot of reasons why, it essentially boils down to the fact that it’s hard for me to justify paying $9 for a film, when I can watch it at home for free*

Now in reality, my TV isn’t actually free, but psychologically, it feels that way because I “rent” my content through services like Netflix and TiVo. While I’m sure that PPV and Blockbuster would prefer that I take advantage of their services, the simple truth is that the transaction fee involved (no matter how small) has made them persona non grata in my lifestyle.

I’ll be the first to admit that watching a film on my 60″ TV isn’t the same as seeing it in Imax, but when the choice is to pay money vs. seeing something for free*, it makes it a lot harder to accept the premiums that the theaters charge. Four years ago, I noted that consumers were making a transition from a pay per view model to a subscription model and that movie theaters would be wise to endorse the trend.

“Why not offer a monthly subscription fee to your local movie theater chains. Consumers would be happy to spend $30 or $40 per month in order to have the privilege of seeing films the way I did when I worked for the theaters. Instead of collecting $40 per year from me now, theaters could instead bring in $480 each year with an all you can eat model.”

A long time ago, I worked as an AMC projectionist and every Thursday night, I’d stay up to the wee hours of the morning screening the new films before they opened. Because of this experience, I know first hand how powerful a theater subscription model could be, which is why I’m so confused that my former employer wouldn’t recognize the brilliance behind MoviePass. What makes this all you can eat movie experience so special isn’t the access to the big hits that you’re dying to see, it’s being able to see mediocre films in a larger than life environment without having to put your wallet at risk. Yet for some strange reason, AMC isn’t interested in attracting customers to their most empty theaters.

Now I can’t speak for everybody, but in my case, had MoviePass existed back then, AMC would have collected $1,920 in ticket sales. Instead they’ve earned less than $40 from me and that includes popcorn.

Not everybody chooses to rent their content, but when you look at the number of cable, satellite, Hulu, Netflix, etc. subscribers, it becomes clear that a huge segment of society chooses to consume the bulk of their content this way. This is why, when I saw that MoviePass was going to create a subscription theater service, I thought it was a no brainer for the theaters involved.

Instead, AMC decides that they want no part of this? Can someone please help me understand how this makes sense because AMC’s justification that “plans for this program were developed without AMC’s knowledge or input,” or that “it does not integrate well into our programs and could create significant guest experience issues”, rings hollow in my opinion.

AMC could have picked up a brand new customer willing to buy tickets in bulk and instead of nurturing a new source of revenue (while MoviePass assumes the risk of proving an experimental business model), AMC has chosen to ban it because they weren’t consulted first? This seems awfully shortsighted and petty on the part of AMC.

If AMC really believed in the mantra, listen, learn, discuss, decide, execute, measure and … repeat, then they would have at least taken the time to see if MoviePass could bear any fruit. Instead, they’ve jumped straight to an execution (with a promise to repeat if anybody else decides that they want to give them buckets of money without permission.)

I could almost understand this reaction, if AMC had some type of similar program that MoviePass was competing with, but the reality is that AMC has failed dramatically when it comes to the execution of their customer loyalty programs.

For 25 years, AMC ran a program called Summer Movie Camp for kids. The idea was basically a seasonal version of MoviePass, except restricted to handful of old kids movies. Given it’s long run, one would think this was a homerun for the cinema, but I can tell you first hand that AMC did a terrible job of running it. Even on their own website, AMC admits it was a failure.

“Unfortunately, the number of guests has been fewer in recent years, with many shows operating with less than 25 guests in the auditorium. Last year, attendance dropped so significantly that we have made the difficult decision to discontinue the program.”

AMC’s most recent program, also looks like it will be a dud. Not only do consumers now have to pay $12 a year for the privilege of frequent customer membership bonuses, but they only save 10% off for every $100 they spend. This means that you would have to pay to see 33 films in a year before you would actually earn a free one under the program. It’s nice that they want to be so stingy with their best customers, but MoviePass really wouldn’t threaten this.

If MoviePase attracts moviehogs, then it will be uneconomical for them as a business. If they attract consumers like myself, who refuse to pay transaction charges for their entertainment, then it’s complimentary to AMC’s existing program and could greatly expand revenue. It’s hard to tell what the future holds for MoviePass at this point, but with the major theater cartels going hostile against this new innovator, I can only hope that independent theaters will be more interested in collecting hundreds of dollars a year from me instead.

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Probst Tell Survivor Fans: TiVo Doesn’t Help Our Ratings http://davisfreeberg.com/2011/02/17/probst-tell-survivor-fans-tivo-doesnt-help-our-ratings/ http://davisfreeberg.com/2011/02/17/probst-tell-survivor-fans-tivo-doesnt-help-our-ratings/#comments Thu, 17 Feb 2011 21:26:23 +0000 Davis http://davisfreeberg.com/?p=2072

Over the years, I’ve had more than one love affair with a TV show, but no matter how much I’ve enjoyed epic hits like 24, Alias or Joey Grecco’s Cheaters, none of them have been able to generate the level of excitement that I feel when I watch Survivor. I’m not sure if it’s the Machiavellian nature of the show or simply being able to watch an assortment of characters who are so wacky that they end up making Gilligan Island look like the Love Boat, but I love the show so much, that I even organized a home version of the game with my family over the holidays (I ended up getting voted out 2nd for trying to emulate Russell Hantz’s bulldog strategy)

Because it is the number #1 show on my Season Pass priority list, you would think that I would never miss an episode, but every year, Survivor changes the name of their show just a little bit, so that DVR subscribers have to resubscribe to each new season. I’ve gone as far as sending angry emails to the Tribune company (the supplier of TiVo’s guide data), but to no avail.

While this may or may not be hurting Survivor’s DVR ratings, the fact that the producers of the show haven’t noticed has always baffled me. It would be like me changing my RSS feed every six months, so that only my superfans could easily follow my blog. Unless you like languishing in obscurity, this isn’t a very good strategy for retaining an audience or capturing people’s attention.

Recently, Jeff Probst, the host of Survivor, launched a blog to promote the show and other charitable causes that he cares about. On his site, he solicits questions from fans and answers the more common ones. While all tidbits about the show caught my attention, one particular answer jumped out at me. While answering the question of how long will Survivor continue to run, Probst says that the survival of Survivor is dependent upon live viewers because “TiVo doesn’t help our ratings.”

Now Jeff Probst certainly isn’t the first one to appeal to their fans to ditch the DVR, but I think that his pleas are at least a little bit misguided. I’m not sure whether it’s because the producers of the show don’t care about the DVR ratings or the advertisers themselves, but either way I think that there is a lot more value to a DVR viewer then his answer would suggest.

Over the years, I may have fast forwarded my way through more than one commercial break, but I haven’t been able to avoid the product placements that are embedded in the show. I don’t know whether or not the show makes more money from these ads, but I would suspect that they do.

Whether it’s Sears demonstrating the utility of their Craftsmen line of tools or Sprint demonstrating how you can keep in touch with loved ones on their new fancy cell phones, throughout a season there are many times where branding creeps into the show. While some may find this an annoyance, I actually enjoy this type of advertainment and it undoubtedly makes me more willing to spend my money on a brand.

During 2002, 24 introduced several cars during their program and I can tell you with 100% certainty that seeing those cars zip around in that show is what made me seek the out and ultimately buy my Thunderbird. When was the last time anyone could say the same thing about a car commercial?

Furthermore, even though I TiVo the show to watch later, because the program always leaves me wanting more, it drives me to the CBS website where you can view all kinds of clips and interviews that don’t make it to television. Unlike viewers who are tuning into the show online instead of live or on DVR, these clips are additive and include lots of spammy pre-roll ads that I wouldn’t put up with if I didn’t stay excited about the show.

It could be that Survivor is so good that they don’t need to rollover their DVR viewers every season, but by ignoring this opportunity, they are losing the ability to turn their more passive fans into passionate ones. With DVR penetration now exceeding 40% of all viewers, this kind of backwards thinking will ultimately hurt them and the show’s long term chances. So while I can appreciate that a live viewer may be worth more money to the show, I’m going to continue to time shift it, so that advertisers can learn how much more valuable it is to capture my heart for 44 minutes, then it is to hold my attention hostage for 60.

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TiVo Plans To Give 1 Free Month Of Hulu+ To Subscribers http://davisfreeberg.com/2011/01/11/tivo-plans-to-give-1-free-month-of-hulu-to-subscribers/ http://davisfreeberg.com/2011/01/11/tivo-plans-to-give-1-free-month-of-hulu-to-subscribers/#comments Wed, 12 Jan 2011 05:34:10 +0000 Davis http://davisfreeberg.com/?p=2012

I was surfing YouTube and came across an interesting ad announcing the launch of Hulu Plus on TiVo. It appears that the ad was uploaded by the agency that created it, so it’s hard to tell what this means in terms of timing, but one tidbit that I was able to glean from the spot, was an announcement that TiVo will be giving away 1 free month of Hulu+ service when they launch it on their DVR. TiVo offered a similar promotion when they launched support for Rhapsody and while I ultimately didn’t turn into a subscriber, I did enjoy the opportunity to check out the service. The simple fact that Hulu makes their paying customers still view ads, kind of makes the service a non-starter for me, but if TiVo wants to comp me with backstage access, I certainly don’t mind taking a peek. While it’d be nice to see this launch sooner than later, at least some of the details are finally starting to leak out.

In related news, it also looks like the same ad agency uploaded a spot for TiVo’s iPad app to the site. Since TiVo announced on Twitter that this would launch by the end of January, it makes me wonder if both partnerships will be launched simultaneously. We’ll have to wait to see if this is the case, but methinks that we won’t have to wait long to find out.

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The Compuservation of Television http://davisfreeberg.com/2011/01/11/the-compuservation-of-television/ http://davisfreeberg.com/2011/01/11/the-compuservation-of-television/#comments Tue, 11 Jan 2011 18:36:04 +0000 Davis http://davisfreeberg.com/?p=2000 Gossip Dirt

The more things change, the more things seem to stay the same. Over the last ten years, the internet has redefined nearly every aspect of our lives. Whether it’s how we communicate with old friends, how we get our news or how we do our shopping, I could give you countless examples of how this technology has changed the way we interact with the world.

Thinking back to when dial up was first getting started, it’s not too hard to imagine an entirely different future. You see, when internet service providers first got into the business, they didn’t want to provide unrestricted access to their subscribers. Instead, they wanted to create a massive intranet where they could charge businesses fees to reach their customers.

In this bold new world that they envisioned, people wouldn’t be buying search terms on Yahoo!, they’d buy keywords on AOL. Instead of being able to use any email provider you wanted, they would only allow you to log into Compuserve accounts. This balkanization of the internet almost succeeded and for a time, Compuserve actually ran one of the top airline ticketing services, but eventually consumers saw the forest for the trees and instead of paying $19.99 a month for a stripped down version of the world wide web, they insisted on unfiltered access to the internet.

Once a few consumers started to move, the rest of the industry followed and as a result we now have third party sites like Facebook, YouTube and blogs, that have been able to build an audience on the free and open web.

With online video still coming of age, it’s interesting to see how the same Compuservation is occurring again, except this time it’s around the television. NewTeeVee has a provocative post out where they argue that the smart television providers are becoming the new gatekeepers for content. This is better than having the cable companies control your television, but it’s is still a watered down version of what you deserve.

I don’t care whether we’re talking about TiVo, Boxee, Roku, AppleTV or any of the latest digital video solutions, all of them have placed restrictions (albeit sometimes unwillingly) over how much their customers can do with their hardware.

Some of these restrictions are because of frightened content owners. For example, customers who rent their TiVo from a cable company aren’t allowed to access Netflix because of agreements Netflix made with the studios. Some of these restrictions are because of plain old fashioned greed. Hulu has already had more than their fair share of conflicts from disabling access to their videos on devices that are designed to sit next to your TV and would love to charge hardware companies for access. Some of these restrictions are self imposed. There’s nothing stopping Apple from offering flash on their iPad, except for their own selfish desire to control 100% of their media eco-system.

Whatever the reason, no matter how you slice it, these “internet” enabled devices have all failed to actually bring the internet to your TV. Looking over the headlines from CES, it’s clear that tablets and “smart TVs” were all the rage in Las Vegas this year and while it’s neat to see content companies start warming up to these devices, if consumers are forced to continue at big media’s pace, it will take another 10 years before you’ll be able to access even 90% of the content that’s out there today.

Because of these restrictions, it’s become increasingly difficult for me to endorse these options as adequate solutions. Over the years, I’ve managed to sample and collect a large number of different media streaming devices, but by far, the most powerful digital media device that I’ve ever used was the cheapest laptop that I could buy from Walmart. Maybe I’m crazy and other people don’t actually want access to the internet on their TV, but from the very first moment that I plugged it into my television, it was just as liberating as the first time I used TiVo to free my TV.

Since almost all new laptops include an HDMI port, getting it connected to the big screen was as easy as plugging it into an HDMI cable. Not only will this setup let you access sites like Hulu without big media interfering, but I can also do PC related tasks on a big screen environment. For example, over the holidays I was able to connect to Skype and do a video chat with the entire family on the big screen. I’ve always been a fan of comic books, but the comic book experience is very different when you’re looking at the action at 40+ inches. Do you ever play video games like Axis and Allies? Being able to see the entire war map actually changes your strategy compared to when you have to view troop movements region by region.

The point that I’m trying to make is no matter how progressive and advanced these technology companies are, no matter how many “apps” developers create, until the CE industry and the content industry abandon their gateway plans, you’ll never get to experience everything that the world wide web is capable of.

Instead of navigating this minefield of short sighted media companies and a CE industry that has lost sight of who their real customers are, take my advice and buy an HDMI enabled laptop before you buy the latest and greatest half baked technology product. A cheap laptop won’t necessarily make it easy to record your broadcast television, but if you’re only going to own one media device for your TV, an HDMI enabled laptop will beat the pants off of any digital device on the market today.

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Comcast Raises DVR Prices For East Bay Residents Yet Again http://davisfreeberg.com/2010/12/30/comcast-raises-dvr-prices-for-east-bay-residents-yet-again/ http://davisfreeberg.com/2010/12/30/comcast-raises-dvr-prices-for-east-bay-residents-yet-again/#comments Thu, 30 Dec 2010 17:50:05 +0000 Davis http://davisfreeberg.com/?p=1944 I think that most people realize that TiVo is about 1000 times better than the DVR that you get from your cable company, yet the cable companies still continue to rent out their DVRs by the truckload. This mostly has to do with the convenience of getting your set top box directly from your television provider, but some are under the false impression that they are saving money by renting their DVR instead of buying.

I was recently perusing my Comcast bill and noticed that they are once again raising prices on their DVR packages. At. $19.95 per month, it’s still 48 cents less per year than what TiVo currently charges for a TiVo premiere with no up front cost, yet millions of people still put up with a sub-par DVR experience at virtually the same price. Over the last 10 years, I remember TiVo raising prices once, over the same period it feels like Comcast has raised prices every 6 months. On the surface, $19.95 per month for a DVR may not sound like a lot, but thanks to the most recent rate changes, it now costs East Bay Comcast customers more to record their television each month, than it does to subscribe to their basic TV service.

It would be one thing, if Comcast was using your $240 per year in DVR fees to keep improving their DVR experience, but anyone whose used the device knows that it still suffers from severe lockups and buggy/slow interactions. Heck, even if the cable dinosaurs wanted to innovate, because of how much money they pay the content industry, they’re still prevented from offering services like Netflix on their DVRs.

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Best Buy Bankrolls TiVo’s Marketing http://davisfreeberg.com/2010/02/28/best-buy-bankrolls-tivos-marketing/ http://davisfreeberg.com/2010/02/28/best-buy-bankrolls-tivos-marketing/#comments Sun, 28 Feb 2010 19:38:50 +0000 Davis http://davisfreeberg.com/?p=1890 TiVo and Best Buy BFFMoney may not buy you love, but it can apparently buy you an exclusive for TiVo’s March 2nd secret product, according to a leaked memo from Best Buy. TiVo blogger Dave Zatz received a copy of the memo from an anonymous source and and while we haven’t received confirmation that the memo is legit, it certainly sounds like big things are in store for TiVo over the next year.

If the memo is accurate, TiVo is about to receive a $20 million advertising windfall from Best Buy, in exchange for giving them a national retail exclusive on their secret product. To help put this into perspective, over the last 12 months TiVo spent a mere $4.7 million of their own money on advertising, so this could go a long way towards boosting subscriber acquisitions.

Here’s a complete copy of the memo,

“You Think You Know TiVo? You Haven’t Seen Anything Yet.

Inventing the DVR was just a warm up for TiVo. Some exciting things are now in the works over at TiVo, and Best Buy is along for the ride. TiVo is currently working on something major that will literally transform the way people watch TV, and Best Buy will be the only national retailer offering this unsurpassed entertainment experience. In fact, Best Buy and TiVo are taking their partnership to new levels in FY ’11, with Best Buy investing more than $20 million in marketing TiVo.

As you know, when we sell TiVo, our customers get a superior entertainment experience, with easy access to the world’s largest on-demand library. Selling this offering also creates amazing incremental margin opportunities for our stores. TiVo therefore represents a perfect example of a product that meets our goal of getting our customers connected and our goal of driving incremental margin, both which are a focus of this upcoming fiscal year.

On March 2, TiVo’s game-changing plans will be revealed, so stay tuned. You’ll want your sales associates to know all about this exciting news, so make sure they check out TiVo’s new eLearning on Learning Lounge, starting on March 3.”

After thinking about the memo, a couple of things really jump out at me. First off, I’m surprised at how excited Best Buy seems to be about the product announcement. While I expect that TiVo would want to generate as much hype as they could for their upcoming press conference, Best Buy wouldn’t need to do this for a memo that was never meant to go public. Yet, in their memo they use some pretty strong language to describe TiVo’s top secret product.

Terms like “something major”, “unsurpassed entertainment experience” and “transform the way people watch TV” would all suggest that TiVo’s announcement is going to be a bit more significant than the addition of a QWERTY remote or placeshifting abilities. While claiming that the DVR was just a “warmup” may be an impossible standard for TiVo to beat, this memo would suggest that something radical is in store for TiVo fans.

While it’s always possible that the memo could turn out to be an unsubstantiated TiVo rumor, some of Tom Roger’s comments from their last earnings call lend credibility to the leak. After being challenge by an analyst over TiVo’s subscriber defections, Rogers had bold words about the budding relationship between the two companies,

“We do think also that those trends can begin to be reversed. That is not something that will take effect in any meaningful way for this holiday season, because it’s dependent on some future development that we want to have for Best Buy before they really light up their promotion and marketing undertakings. Once that’s in full swing, that too should begin to well reverse those trends in 2010, at least that’s what we are working toward.”

Giving Best Buy an exclusive could potentially backfire on TiVo by making them less attractive to other retailers, but $20 million in advertising would certainly go a long way towards jump starting subscriber acquisitions once again. If internet retailers like Amazon are still allowed to sell the new hardware, the extra marketing would more than pay for any strained relationships with companies like Radio Shack. If you also include the advertising that DirecTV is expected to do, once their product launches as well as any potential advertising that TiVo could see from Comcast (if their product ever actually goes national), TiVo could see their most significant subscriber gains in years.

While we won’t know how much of this is hype vs. reality until TiVo holds their press conference on March 2nd, Best Buy’s leaked memo certainly makes this something to watch live, instead of TiVoing the event.

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TiVo Granted Patent For The Season Pass http://davisfreeberg.com/2010/02/18/tivo-granted-patent-for-the-season-pass/ http://davisfreeberg.com/2010/02/18/tivo-granted-patent-for-the-season-pass/#comments Thu, 18 Feb 2010 14:36:59 +0000 Davis http://davisfreeberg.com/?p=1874 TiVo Season Pass ManagerThe US patent office must have gotten their hard drives unpaused, because hot on the heels of winning a patent related to closed captions on a DVR, TiVo has been awarded another patent at the heart of the DVR experience. With the application having been filed in October of 1999, it took the USPTO over ten years to review and approve their request, but on February 16th, TiVo was given the legal exclusive on season pass technology.

For those of you unfamiliar with how a DVR works, part of their magic is the ability to let you record shows in the future without having to worry about when it’s on. Back in the ole VCR days, you’d typically have to manually tell your gadget what time and channel you wanted it to record, but with TiVo (and other DVRs) they keep track of this information automagically and records your programs whenever it’s scheduled to be on. Because the TV studios tend to schedule all of their good programming at the same time (I’m looking at you Thursday night), there are sometimes conflicts between what you’d like to record and the number of TV tuners available to do it.

To resolve these issues, TiVo created a season pass manager that allows you to prioritize which shows get recorded and which ones don’t. This helps to make sure that I always get to watch Survivor and CSI, even if it means that I sometimes have to skip Community.

From patent 7,665,111,

“The invention correlates an input schedule that tracks the free and occupied time slots for each input source with a space schedule that tracks all currently recorded programs and the programs that have been scheduled to be recorded in the future, to schedule new programs to record and resolve recording conflicts. A program is recorded if at all times between when the recording would be initiated and when it expires, sufficient space is available to hold it. Programs scheduled for recording based on inferred preferences automatically lose all conflict decisions. All scheduling conflicts are resolved as early as possible. Schedule conflicts resulting from the recording of aggregate objects are resolved using the preference weighting of the programs involved. A background scheduler attempts to schedule each preferred program in turn until the list of preferred programs is exhausted or no further opportunity to record is available. A preferred program is scheduled if and only if there are no conflicts with other scheduled programs “

Without the ability to do this, the DVR would be as hard to program as the blinking clock on the front of your VCR. Recognizing how crucial this feature was to the DVR experience, TiVo moved aggressively to patent the feature, before they even rolled out their technology to the public.

In the ten years since then, TiVo’s season pass technology hasn’t really changed all that much. Most of their DVRs now come with two tuners instead of one, but the basic experience has remained the same.

Two improvements, that I’d like to see them make to their season pass manager would be faster processing times for when you want to rearrange your priorities or delete season passes and some kind of a menu that can identify future conflicts even after you’ve already scheduled your program list.

If TiVo introduces a DVR with faster microchips at their March 2nd press event, the long delay after reorganizing your season pass should take care of itself, but making their conflict resolution program a bit more robust would need some kind of a software upgrade.

While TiVo is good at pointing out conflict issues when you first schedule a program, they rely solely on your prioritization list when considering future conflicts. This may ensure that the programs you care about most get recorded, but it can make it difficult to know when you’ve missed an episode because of a scheduling change. In the past this hasn’t been much of an issue because the consumer’s only option would be to wait for a rerun, but with sites like Hulu and Netflix now streaming the repeats, it would be nice to be able to view some kind of a report of what you missed that week, so that you could watch any missed programs online.

While pretty much every single DVR currently uses this embodiment of the season pass manager, TiVo’s latest patent isn’t without a workaround. Because it was invented during a time when cloud computing was an expensive pipe dream, TiVo only patented the client side application of this technology. In other words, as long as the conflict resolution is done remotely on a server, competitors like Microsoft and cable companies could avoid infringement. Of course, this could potentially be a lot more expensive than licensing the patent from TiVo to begin with, but given the current trend towards remote DVR services, the USPTO’s long application process may have made TiVo’s invention obsolete, before they’ll have much of a chance to enforce it.

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TiVo Awarded Patent For Closed Captions On A DVR http://davisfreeberg.com/2010/02/11/tivo-awarded-patent-for-interactive-data-closed-captions-on-dvrs/ http://davisfreeberg.com/2010/02/11/tivo-awarded-patent-for-interactive-data-closed-captions-on-dvrs/#comments Thu, 11 Feb 2010 14:25:12 +0000 Davis http://davisfreeberg.com/?p=1862 The Hash Tag Patent

TiVo doesn’t know whether or not their injunction against Dish’s DVR will hold up yet, but that hasn’t stopped them from adding to their patent portfolio in the meantime. In a remarkable filing with the USPTO, TiVo appears to have now won an important patent for displaying closed caption information to DVR customers.

In addition to covering this important feature, TiVo’s latest addition to their portfolio, also appears to encompass enhanced TV services, including a “clip and sling” type technology, that could eventually allow TiVo users to automatically remove commercials from time shifted programs.

According to patent 7,661,121, TiVo now owns the right to use existing closed caption and Enhanced Television (ETV) signaling data to create an interactive experience for their customers. ETV data is metadata that content owners have started to embed into their programming. It’s been used by Cablelabs and is part of the fundamental architecture behind big cable’s sinking “Canoe” DVR advertising venture. While I would suspect that the cable companies also have patents related to how ETV data can be used, it will undoubtedly be another series of rapids that the long delayed project will have to maneuver through.

While the abstract for TiVo’s latest patent is a little vague, if you delve into the details, you start to understand why TiVo would try to seize this particular piece of intellectual property. Essentially, the patent allows TiVo to sync closed caption information (and metadata) from broadcast programs recorded on a DVR and then display that data in an interactive format. This data can be as simple as a menu or closed captioned text or can be as advanced as digital video and sound effects.

From the patent,

“A multimedia device may use closed-caption data patterns to recognize and synchronize to multimedia content streams. The types of data patterns available in closed-caption data are numerous. For instance, distinct data patterns may exist within the actual closed-caption text, the closed-caption control data, as well as well as any other event defined by the closed-caption data. By recognizing distinct patterns within the closed-caption data, a DVR may identify events within the multimedia content stream. One way of recognizing patterns within closed-caption data is by computing hash values representing closed-caption text and identifying patterns of hash value sequences. Thus, according to one embodiment, at a multimedia device, such as a DVR or server, the closed-caption data is parsed and hash values are generated corresponding to the closed-caption data. The hash values are then compiled into hash value sequences associated with particular video programs or segments, and further combined with metadata defining command and control information for processing at multimedia devices. These hash sequences and metadata are provided to multimedia devices such as DVRs in the form of hash value sequence data. The multimedia devices use the hash value sequence data for recognizing and synchronizing to closed-caption data. A matching algorithm is used by the multimedia device to sequentially compare generated hash values from the closed caption data with multiple hash sequences that the multimedia device has stored locally. According to one embodiment, the matching algorithm is implemented through a state machine that processes the generated hash values and reports whether or not a match has occurred with a hash sequence identified by the hash value sequence data. ”

While the patent was only awarded on February 9th, TiVo actually implemented part of this technology years ago. Not only do they already offer a number of different ways to view closed caption data, but if you’ve ever watched a commercial on TiVo from one of their corporate partners, you’ve probably noticed a thumbs up icon that lets you easily subscribe to a show or order more product information.

While TiVo’s current implementation of this technology is admittedly pretty limited, the patent hints that there may be more powerful features going forward.

“”A user can mark off sections of a multimedia program or place points of interest relating to content within the multimedia program. For example, a user may want to mark the best plays of a recording of a football game. Once the user marks the plays, he can send the resulting hash sequences to a friend’s DVR.” [Bold added by me]

One of the reasons why Dish was never able to launch their clip and sling technology was because the content owners threw a hissy fit and threatened to sue the bejesus out them, if they made it easy for consumers to share content. While I don’t know the technical details behind what Sling was trying to accomplish, my sense of the project was that they wanted to let users edit other people’s content and then redistribute digital copies of those clips. The genius behind TiVo’s method is that their method wouldn’t allow anyone to “share content” that wasn’t entirely owned by the customer or TiVo.

“DVR users can distribute their own sets of points of interest for programs to other users. Users can further attach metadata to each point of interest that may cause the DVR to display text to the viewer, e.g., “Isn’t this a great action scene?” The user may also attach metadata to a point of interest that tells the DVR to skip x seconds into the program from that point of interest or display x seconds of the program before skipping to the next point of interest. This allows users to create their own condensed versions of a program that they can distribute to their friends, family, classmates, students, interest group, etc.”

While TiVo uses the example of a clipping highlights from a football game in their patent filing, I’m much more interested in how TiVo customers could potentially use this technology to remove commercials from YOUR programs. If both you and I have already recorded a particular show, there is no copyright violation because we’re both recording content that we already own. By allowing their users to create hash tag data, TiVo would technically own that data and would have the right to distributed that hash tag data to other DVRs without having to worry about content owners accusing them of stealing.

This would make it easy for me (or more likely someone else since I time shift everything ;) ) to easily tag all the commercials in a program and TiVo would then know to auto-skip past the content (commercials) when it saw the tags. TiVo could also use this as a way for live subscribers to tag the end of football and basketball games, so that they wouldn’t get cut off if the game went to overtime.

Another interesting embodiment of this patent would be the combination of live information with time shifted programming. Whenever I watch something a few months old, I always see commercials for upcoming TV shows or movies that are way past their expiration date. Instead of advertisers wasting their money on DVR subscribers, they could use sponsored hash tags to replace an old ad with something more current. Alternatively, if you were time shifting the news, TiVo could use your internet connection to create a live scrolling ticker that could update you on any new developments in the story.

Other potential uses that appear to be covered by the patent would include shows that have choose your own adventure type storylines. Upset about Chuck and Sarah not hooking up? the producers could give fans an alternate storyline to explore and allow viewers to vote on how they want to see the story move forward or TiVo could use this patent to create Blind Date type pop-ups around recorded television. While I tend to prefer my TV clutter free, for events like the state of the union, I can see why people would be interested in having fun facts pop up, addressing the issues that are being discussed.

While we haven’t seen any of these implementations take place today, the mere fact that TiVo was thinking about these options when they filed the patent would seem to suggest that they’ve been quietly innovating behind the scenes. This new patent award won’t necessarily help them in their case against Verizon or AT&T, but it could offer the telcos yet another reason to settle their dispute with TiVo, instead of being forced to place limits on the future of TV.

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Forget Net Neutrality, What About Media Neutrality? http://davisfreeberg.com/2010/02/10/forget-net-neutrality-what-about-media-neutrality/ http://davisfreeberg.com/2010/02/10/forget-net-neutrality-what-about-media-neutrality/#comments Wed, 10 Feb 2010 20:28:17 +0000 Davis http://davisfreeberg.com/?p=1850 Media NeutralityOver the past five years, there’s been a lot of debate around the topic of net neutrality and while there have been a few examples where internet providers have tried to favor their own services over the competition, by and large this has turned out to be little more than a boogey man. Don’t get me wrong, I think that it’s important to keep the playing field level, but I also believe that there are bigger issues where consumers are being harmed.

While many media companies would like to see the first sale doctrine done away with, ever since the supreme court established the doctrine in 1908, consumers have enjoyed tremendous benefits from it. The concept, which was later codified into law in 1976, allows businesses and individuals to resell goods that they’ve legally purchased. Without it, companies like Ebay, Craigslist and Blockbuster Video wouldn’t even be possible.

Having the right to resell goods benefits consumers in two major ways. First, it reduces the risks that consumers have to take when making purchases. This ultimately makes things cheaper for all of us, because companies are forced to compete with their own products and consumers have a way of recouping part of their initial expense.

When I first purchased my TiVo series 3 for example, I spent over $800 on the product. While this may seem like an insane amount to spend for television, I was able to justify the cost in part, because I sold my original TiVo on eBay for $200 and knew that one day I would be able to resell my Series 3 (currently worth approximately $400 on Ebay) to recover part of my expense. As a result, I’ve been able to enjoy a premium DVR experience for about 1/3rd what it would have cost me to rent an inferior DVR from my cable company.

The second benefit to the consumer is that by having a robust resell market, it allows more businesses/middlemen to participate. This ultimately increases demand, stimulates innovation, and drives down prices. Redbox for example is able to rent you a DVDs at 1/20th of the cost or what it would cost you to buy the actual DVD thanks in large part to the first sale doctrine. Because Redbox knows that they can get more than 20 people to share the same product, it enables consumers to save money, the media companies to sell more DVDs and for Redbox to still earn a tidy profit in the process.

While the first sale doctrine has been a huge benefit for consumers over the last 100 years, these benefits are rapidly being eroded as media moves digital. Because the first sale doctrine was based on physical goods, it hasn’t aged very well in the digital realm. As a result, consumers have been forced to endure awkward DRM implementations, limited availability of digital content and higher prices for media services.

As the top media conglomerates have sought to seize more and more control over the distribution of their products, they’ve shifted from a world where you have the ability to “own” your media, to one where you only have the option to “license” your content.

For a lot of consumers, this distinction may not seem important, but it has profound implications on the future of digital entertainment. Since firms aren’t allowed to buy products at a wholesale price and rent them to multiple consumers, they’ve been forced to negotiate agreements one by one. This is a costly and time intensive process that has limited how quickly media can migrate online. It has also given the media conglomerates monopolistic control over prices. Instead of being forced to compete in an open environment, they are able to take their ball and go home, when they haven’t liked the terms and conditions that innovators offer them.

The result of this transition from ownership to licensing has increased costs for consumers even beyond the price of media. Take for example, the various hardware devices that we’ve seen released over the last five years. If you want to watch digital copies of old movies and TV shows, you can do it through Netflix, but only if it’s on a device that has a business relationship with them. When Sony decided to release a digital copy of Cloudy with a chance of meatballs at the same time the movie was in the theaters, consumers could only participate on select Sony TVs.

If you prefer to watch new releases from Apple’s iTunes store, you’ll need to buy an AppleTV to easily watch that content on your TV. If you want to watch a DivX file that you purchased from CinemaNow, you’ll need to illegally hack your AppleTV or purchase a DivX certified device instead. It’s fantastic that consumers have the ability to record HD cable TV through TiVo, but if you subscribe to AT&T or Dish Networks, you’ll need additional (proprietary) hardware to decode their signals.

While many of these businesses have come a long way towards opening up their systems and fulfilling the digital dream, they’ve all been limited by what content holders allow. As a result, consumers must face a digital minefield where DRM and file formats are used to limit what you can do with the content that you’ve paid for.

As we continue to move forward into the digital world, I think it’s important that consumers shouldn’t have to abandon the first sale protections that have served us so well over the last century. What I propose is a new set of rules that would allow media companies to control their prices, but would also give consumers (and businesses) a way to move past some of these restrictions.

While the DMCA has been a mixed blessing for tech companies and consumers, it is in desperate need of an update (and one that isn’t written by the lobbyists.) For example, currently, it’s illegal for consumers (or businesses) to circumvent DRM, even if consumers are being harmed by the DRM. This has led to situations where people who have purchased media, later lost access to those rights because a provider went out of business. Situations, where companies are unable to offer lifetime licenses in the cloud, because of exclusivity clauses in contracts with pay TV channels.

What I purpose is that if media companies want DMCA protection for their content, it should come with strings attached. In crafting new rules for a modern first sale doctrine, I would require content owners to set a wholesale price that all businesses would be allowed to buy content at. They could still require minimum purchases sizes and would have complete control over what they wanted to charge for that content, but they shouldn’t be allowed to sell a license at one price to one company and then exploit another company for political reasons.

What this would do is create a level playing field for all of the digital retailers. If UMG wants to charge $50 for a download, they would have the right to do this, but they couldn’t favor one vendor over another and they couldn’t punish innovators for being successful or passing on value to the consumer. This would also bring welcome competition to the pay TV market because media companies wouldn’t be able to play MSO’s off of each other.

For example, I’d love to be able to see every NFL game each season, but I can’t unless I’m willing to subscribe to DirecTV for service. Instead of making consumers fight and choose over exclusive content, everyone should be given fair access to that content. If cable companies don’t want to pay the price of admission, they would be less competitive with consumers. The end result would be more demand for NFL content by consumers and more competition for their dollars. If we allow media companies to continue with exclusive content in the digital realm, it will only makes it more expensive for everyone.

I also think that if the media wants to continue to have DMCA restrictions on their DRM, that they shouldn’t be allowed to use that DRM to discriminate between hardware partners. It’s great that I’ve got the ability to record HDTV on my TiVo, but since cablecards don’t work with satellite or U-verse, it essentially gives Comcast a monopoly on pay television for TiVo households.

As a result, Comcast is able to provide abusive cablecard support without having to worry about competition. If they knew that they had to actually compete for the $50 – $200 a month that they charge, it would encourage them to provide better service and to continue to innovate, (even if consumers decide not to use Comcast’s equipment.) Instead we’ve seen cable companies limit the ability for consumers to take their programs on the go and prevent consumers from accessing VOD services on DVRs that aren’t rented from them, all without having to worry about repercussions.

The same is true for digital downloads. If Apple wants to use DRM to help protect their content partners, they should be allowed to, but not at the expense of consumers. If other hardware manufacturers want to build support for iTunes’ product they should be allowed to license the DRM (at cost) from Apple. This would prevent Apple from offering exclusive downloads that lock consumers into their own hardware ecosystem. The end result would be more devices that could play Apple content and more competition among set top box manufacturers. This competition would cause prices to drop and would encourage Apple and others to be innovative with the features and services that they offer to their customers.

While some may be content to let the media industry continue to grow inside of these walled gardens, I’d like to see a world where someone can legally purchase media and play it on any device that they want to. By creating new laws to help better regulate the abuses of our current licensing system, consumers, businesses and the online video industry as a whole, would be allowed to flourish across many different platforms. Instead of being forced to buy the same content over and over and over again, consumers would be allowed to license their media under fair and reasonable conditions.

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25 Stocks Under $250 Million http://davisfreeberg.com/2010/01/26/25-stocks-under-250-million/ http://davisfreeberg.com/2010/01/26/25-stocks-under-250-million/#comments Wed, 27 Jan 2010 00:19:24 +0000 Davis http://davisfreeberg.com/?p=1785 House Of The Rising Sun*Disclaimer – This post should not be construed as investment advice or a recommendation to buy or sell any of the securities mentioned. Small cap stocks in general tend to be much more dangerous than larger companies and investors are highly encouraged to speak with their own financial adviser and to perform their own due diligence before considering an investment in any of the companies mentioned. Full Disclosure, I currently own shares of Calamos and Lojack.

Many investors tend to focus on large well established companies, but I’ve always had a penchant for small cap stocks. It could be my masochistic tendencies, but I prefer the risk/reward of a long shot, over companies who already dominate their market. Typically, my investment style has been to seek out strong brands that have fallen out of favor with the market and then wait for their fortunes to improve. Sometimes this involves waiting for years, sometimes it involves taking a complete loss and sometimes I get lucky and other firms step in and buy them out or bid up the price. Since a few of my readers have inquired about what sorts of things I look for in an investment, I thought I’d present a list of 25 small cap stocks that I currently have my eye on. Most of the data has been taken from Yahoo! finance as of 1/26/2010, so it’s probably a good idea to double check the numbers.

1-800-Flowers (Market Cap = $136.47 million Ticker: FLWS) – Every since United Online purchased FTD, 1-800-Flowers seems to have lost market share, but despite their wilting fortunes, they represent a strong brand in a market with limited competition. After cutting operating expenses by $50 million in the second half of 09 and with Valentine’s day just around the corner, I wouldn’t count this one down and out.

Audiovox (Market Cap = $151.26 million Ticker: VOXX) – Despite having booked over a half a billion in consumer electronic sales over the last year, Audiovox doesn’t seem to get a lot of respect outside of the consumer electronic’s industry. With $361 million in shareholder equity, the firm is trading at half of their book value. While the company has lost over $50 million in the last 12 months, these losses are largely attributed to one time charges. With the firm having hit profitability in the last 3 quarters, a turnaround may be in sight for patient investors.

Bank Of The Internet (Market Cap = $87.61 million Ticker: BOFI) – While many local California banks made some pretty terrible loans during the housing boom, BofI was considerably more conservative with their assets. The market may have discounted them along with the rest of the financial community, but a closer look at their balance sheet suggests that this may be a hidden gem in all the rubble. With a charter that allows them to operate in every US state, there is a lot of potential for this little known company. With some of the highest interest rates on cash deposits, they’ve been able to attract deposits during a period where most banks have seen their customer base contract. For fiscal year 2007, they had revenue of $45.7 million, in 08′ they booked $64.8 and in 09′ they had $81.1 million. While I’m no longer a customer of the bank, from past experience I can personally attest, that they have the best customer service of any financial institution that I’ve ever worked with.

Big Band Networks (Market Cap = $205.92 million Ticker: BBND) – Since it’s debut in 2007, this content delivery network has seen their stock price fluctuate between $3 a share to $20.44. The company did lose $11 million in the last quarter, but had they not been investing in research and development they would have generated a small profit. While they do owe approximately $70 million in debt, with $161 million in cash and short term investments, they should have the stamina to make it through the market’s bust. Sitting at the epicenter of online video movement, there’s a lot of potential for this Silicon Valley company.

Calamos (Market Cap = $237.42 Ticker: CLMS) – When it comes to convertible bond investing, Calamos has set the gold standard for fund managers. While revenue is down over 20% since the market collapsed in 2008, I don’t believe that this is proper justification for trading at less than 1 times their trailing 12 month sales. With a strong management team, a fantastic brand and their recent return to profitability, I think that the company is undervalued. With their latest dividend reflecting a 2.4% yield, I’m willing to wait for their turnaround.

ClickSoftware Technologies (Market Cap = $200.88 million Ticker: CKSW) – ClickSoftware helps companies better manage their workforce. Since the beginning of 2009, they’ve seen their stock rise almost 400%, so they’re not exactly a secret. Nonetheless, this Israeli company has demonstrated some pretty impressive metrics. In fiscal 06′ they had $32.4 million in revenue, in 07′ this rose to $40 million. In 08′ they recorded $52.3 million in sales and for 2009, they are expected to report approximately $61 million. With the company having made three small acquisitions in the past year and realizing 67% gross margins, it would appear that they have a bright future ahead of them. With $48.6 million in current assets and only $22.2 liabilities, they should be able to survive for a very long time, especially if the continue to remain profitable.

DivX Inc. (Market Cap = $180.25 Million Ticker: DivX) – After making a huge splash in 07′ and hitting a billion dollar market cap following their IPO, DivX has been a huge disappointment for many investors. While there are long term questions about their business model and management has given no indication that revenues won’t continue to drop, with $139 million in cash and short term investments and only $25.6 million in liabilities, the stock is certainly priced at a bargain. Given their unique position in the digital media space, I can think of a number of large competitors who wouldn’t mind taking advantage of the market’s short-sightedness.

Double-Take Software (Market Cap $216.34 million Ticker: DBTK) – Even before cloud computing was a buzz word, Double-Take was working towards building remote solutions for businesses. After seeing their revenues rise over 50% between 2006 – 2008, the company experience some turbulence in 09′. For the first 9 months of the year, they recorded revenue of $60.4 million, compared to $71.3 million for the similar time period in 08′. Nonetheless, when you consider that they are still booking a gross profit of 89%, there is a lot here to like. With financial and insurance companies representing some of their biggest customers, it may take time for them to return to their highs, but with nearly 4 times as many assets as they have liabilities, the company should have no problem surviving.

Geek.net (Market Cap = $77.41 million Ticker: LNUX) – As a self professed Geek I may be a bit biased on this one, but with the company trading at just $10 million above their book value, I think that this could be an extremely attractive acquisition for the right partner. Through sites like Slashdot, Sourceforge and ThinkGeek, they’ve been able to build an audience of over 40 million unique visitors each month. When you consider that their core audience tends to be primarily male developers with a lot of disposable income, I’m not surprised that their revenue has grown despite a collapse in the online ad markets. Recent insider selling and the lack of profitability may be cause for concern, but I believe that their core brands are too valuable to be trading at such a steep discount.

IncrediMail (Market Cap = $77 million Ticker: MAIL) – Since hitting their bottom in late 2008, IncrediMail’s stock before has been nothing short of incredible. With the stock up over 400%, there’s room for it to take a breather, but based on their most recent dividend, investors are earning an approximate 10% yield. While it’s always possible that they could quit paying back returns to their shareholders, with revenues up 25% for the first 9 months of 09, the trend is headed in the right direction.

Jackson Hewitt (Market Cap = $101.27 million Ticker: JTX) – They say nothing is certain in life except death and taxes and given Jackson Hewitt’s past sins, it’s fair to say that both may still be in store for this company’s future, but with the stock trading at 10% of past valuations, there’s also room for an impressive “dead cat bounce”. After getting busted for issuing problematic refund anticipation loans there’s an unknown liability that hangs over this firm, but with the company trading at 0.40 times their 12 months sales, the risk/reward is attractive for the troubled tax preparer.

Internap (Market Cap = $247.71 million Ticker: INAP) – Like many of the CDN players, Internap has seen their stock price hit with a buzzsaw as investors re-evaluated the long term potential of internet delivery. While Akamai may have a firm grasp on this market, I believe that there’s a lot of untapped value in this company. With over $250 million in revenue over the past year and over a billion dollars worth of tax losses, this small little video provider is ripe for consolidation.

Lasercard (Market Cap = $75.85 million Ticker: LCRD) – After a history of losses, this Silicon Valley security company appears to have turned the corner with their business model. During 2009, they blew through their net operating losses and have once again begun paying taxes on their profits. While their revenue tends to be concentrated with a few customers, recent contract wins with the governments of Hungary and Angola should provide some much needed diversification over the next year. Their leverage is a little bit higher than I’d like to see, but with a successful underwriting early last year and a bright future for the global security market, they should be OK over the near term.

Lojack (Market Cap $74.57 million Ticker: LOJN) – Caught between the wrong end of a patent lawsuit and the collapse of the auto market, Lojack has been absolutely hammered over the last few years. With the stock down more than 80% from their all-time high, it would be easy to write this one off as a tax loss. Despite the challenges that they’ve faced though, I believe that their unique technology and brand can easily be ported into other industries and that their recent losses will only prove to be temporary. With sticky contracts with law enforcement agencies and the potential to once again realize strong earnings, I think the company has been undervalued by investors.

Motorcar Parts of America (Market Cap = $68.22 million Ticker: MPAA) – Despite their ticker symbol, MPAA doesn’t have anything to do with the entertainment industry. They’re a small firm that sells plain old boring alternators and starters for small trucks. While the auto industry has seen new car sales eviscerated over the last few years, it should provide an opportunity for companies who build replacement parts. With their current liabilities exceeding their current assets, it may be wise to wait until they raise more money before proceeding, but with the company trading at approximately half of their trailing 12 month sales, the market seems to have priced in the doom and gloom already.

OpenTV (Market Cap = $162.92 million Ticker: OPTV) – With the Kudelski group having already agreed to pay $1.55 per share, you won’t get rich off of investing in this set top box manufacturer, but there could be an arbitrage opportunity for those looking for a short term investment. Assuming that it takes them another 1 – 3 months to close the transaction, investors could expect an annualized yield of 10.75% – 3.22% respectively. While these transactions always carry the risk that something could derail them, I’d be surprised if the deal doesn’t get completed in the first quarter.

Primedia (Market Cap = $126.26 million Ticker: PRM) – From a high of $175 per share during the .com heyday, to it’s current price under $3 a share, it’s fair to say that the last decade hasn’t been very kind to Primedia investors. Despite their past performance though (and huge question marks about the ad market), there’s still life in this old dog yet. Over the last 12 months, they’ve been able to pull in approximately $270 million in ad revenue and while this is less than what they earned in 2008, it does suggest that their revenues are starting to stabilize. With an impressive portfolio of .com properties, once the ad market returns, Primedia is an a better position to recover than most.

Rentrak (Market Cap = $167.97 million Ticker: Rent) – DVD sales may be in a freefall, but Rentrak has done a good job of managing this decline. The company not only helps to distribute packaged media, but also sells industry data to the major studios. While on one hand, the current business trends would appear to be working against the firm, the decline in disc based media also makes that intelligence even more valuable. With the company trading at less than 2 times sales, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a firm like Nielsen try to buy them in an attempt to bolster their own portfolio.

Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory
(Market Cap = $51.65 million Ticker: RMCF) – While this pick violates a rule I have about never investing in restaurants, I’m willing to make an exception when it comes to chocolate :) With $17.8 million in assets and only $3.7 million in debt, this small specialty retailer has a remarkably clean balance sheet. Sales may be down year over year, but thanks to a partnership with Cold Stone Creamery, there is potential for growth. Given the strength of their brand name, I could think of quite a few companies who would mind owning their brand.

Smith and Wesson (Market Cap = $235.94 million Ticker: SWHC) – Over the past two years Smith and Wesson investors probably feel like they’ve been shot in the gut. Despite revenue going through the roof, they’ve been sidelined by one blunder after another. With a messy balance sheet and company officials facing charges of bribery, this one may be dead on arrival, but with over $300 million in revenue and a terrific brand name I wouldn’t hesitate to take a second look once things get straightened out.

Sonic Solutions (Market Cap =$232.46 million Ticker: SNIC) – For a long time, Sonic seemed to be the little engine that just couldn’t. With a number of software products focused on digital media, success always seemed like it was just over the horizon, but delays from studio partners and the decline in demand for their DVD services put a crimp in their stock’s performance. After seeing a rebound of over 400% in 2009, investors may be setting themselves up for another disappointment, but recent agreements with Blockbuster Video and a successful stock underwriting late last year, have removed concerns about their near term future. While I still have doubts about their ability to execute, there’s no denying that the Roxio and CinemaNow brands have value.

SORL Auto Parts
(Market Cap = $205.64 million Ticker: SORL) – Chinese companies always make me a bit nervous because it’s hard to trust their financials, but given China’s investment in infrastructure, there’s a lot of upside to the industry that SORL operates in. As a supplier of auto parts for Chinese trucks and buses, they’ve been immune to the issues facing the US auto sector. With assets representing more than 4 times their debt, they should be well positioned to capitalize on China’s own stimulus plan.

Spark Networks (Market Cap = $62.77 million Ticker: LOV) – Every since I made a bundle when IAC bought out UDate, I’ve been looking for an internet dating site to court. While I may have missed the bottom when it comes to Spark Networks, I’m still attracted to their business model. Revenue, net income and their member base have both been heading the wrong direction, but if their new Spark.com domain can take off, there’s still a lot to love.

SRS Labs (Market Cap = $98.73 million Ticker: SRSL) – Compared to heavyweights like Dolby, SRS is a 98 pound weakling in the audio technology industry, but don’t let their size fool you about the quality of their technology. Recently the company announced that their partners have shipped over 30 million certified TruVolume devices. Perhaps even more impressive though is that the company operates at 99% gross margins. With their technology able to prevent the sound fluctuations between your programs and commercial breaks, I see a bright future ahead. When you also consider that the company has over $50 million in assets and less than $3.5 million in debt, I think it’s a steal at their current valuation.

Stamps.com (Market Cap = $140.77 million Ticker: STMP) – Over the last few years, Stamps.com’s revenue has been more or less stagnant, but with limited competitors they should be able to maintain a pretty good hold on their niche market. With the recent growth in home based businesses, the company is poised to capitalize on FedEx’s losses. With a balance sheet heavy on assets and light on liabilities all it would take is a dividend or a share buyback to make this stock attractive.

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Cut The Cable and Free Your TV http://davisfreeberg.com/2010/01/19/cut-the-cable-and-free-your-tv/ http://davisfreeberg.com/2010/01/19/cut-the-cable-and-free-your-tv/#comments Tue, 19 Jan 2010 21:17:40 +0000 Davis http://davisfreeberg.com/?p=1730 HDTVoA couple of months back, I received my monthly bill from Comcast and almost had a heart attack. Over the course of one month, my bill went up over 50% and while I’ll admit to loving TV more than your average bear, after years of fee increases, it became hard to justify paying over $50 a month for the small handful of channels that I actually watch.

When I called Comcast to inquire about the increase, they told me that instead of extending their “promo” deals like they have in the past, they would rather lose my business than extend my discounted rate. After much hand wringing, I finally decided to cut the cord and figured I could always go back.

Sure enough, less than one week after discontinuing my cable TV service, Comcast had a change of heart and sent out a 12 month promo offer bundled with internet. While the deal looked tempting, I didn’t want to keep trying to play musical chairs when it came to how much I paid for television and I didn’t particularly appreciate Comcast’s policy of screwing existing customers until you actually quit. At first, I tried going cold turkey and figured I’d have withdrawals, but much to my surprise, I found that I didn’t really miss cable TV all that much.

Thanks to sites like Netflix, Megavideo, Amazon and Hulu, it was easy to stay up to date via the laptop and with less distractions, I found that I was actually accomplishing a lot more in my life.

Over the holidays, it became clear that cable TV simply wasn’t offering a very good value for what they were providing. In the past, there’s been talk of allowing consumers to subscribe to channels a la carte, but Comcast has consistently resisted offering this to consumers. As much as my laptop provided a reasonable solution for finding content though, I still felt like I was missing out on the high definition experience that I had grown to love, so after the holidays were over, I purchased an Audiovox HDTVo antenna to see what kind of free OTA signals I could get.

In the past, I’ve seen plenty of negative reviews on HD antenna’s, so I half expected that I’d be taking the product back, but despite a few difficulties in getting it set up, I couldn’t be more pleased with the reception that I’m getting.

When I was a kid, we had a giant antenna mounted on top of our house. Not only was it ugly, but every time a storm blew in, we’d lose all reception. On the good days, we were lucky to get three channels and even then it was intermittent with static. While the price for OTA signals hasn’t changed any, technology sure has.

Not only did my Audiovox antenna allow me to pick up signals that were over 50 miles away from my house, but they provided the signals with incredible clarity. No static, no glitches, just pure high definition goodness. When you throw in the ability to time shift my programs with my TiVo, it creates a remarkable user experience.

In comparing my season passes from cable to post-cable, I found out that there are approximately 15 programs that I’m missing out on. Of those programs, 10 of them are available through Hulu or Netflix. While I do miss some of the Laker games that are broadcast on ESPN and some of the original programing on USA and TBS, with over 45 programs being recording each week, there is more than enough high quality content to keep me busy. If you throw in Netflix’s watch instantly integration via the TiVo, there are another 250 movies or shows that I’ve got waiting in my queue.

While my overall impression of the AudioVox HDTVo antenna was positive, there were a few drawbacks. While the antenna is fairly small, it does look a little obnoxious sitting on my roof. Because of the location of the broadcast towers, in order to capture the signals I could only install it on one side of my house. This makes it hard to camouflage from the neighbors and could present problems to those who live next to tall trees or buildings.

Another difficulty that I had was that the installation instructions were very poorly written. They referred you to web addresses that didn’t exist, didn’t provide the names of each part, but referenced the parts like you were supposed to already know what they were and when I first hooked it up to my TV, I couldn’t get any signals because by five year old HDTV did not include an HD receiver inside of it. Luckily, My HDTiVo did and was able to translate the signals perfectly. I also thought that the name HDTVo was a little bit deceptive and made it seem like this was a product designed specifically for TiVo. While I’m not sure that it would amount to a trademark violation, I do think that the way they’ve chosen to market the antenna could lead to a bit of confusion on the part of consumers.

Despite my frustration setting it up though, the final experience exceeded my expectations and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the product to anyone who are looking for a way to save money on their television. At $65, it takes about 5 weeks before it becomes cheaper than paying Comcast for lackluster service and when you consider that you can save over $600 in the first year that you use it, the savings can add up pretty quick.

That $600 could be spent on two movies a night from Redbox or a Blockbuster rental every other day and I’d still end up ahead. While antennas in the past may have been a disappointment, the new generation of digital antennas make it easy to cut the cord and make it awfully hard to justify the expense of pay television. I don’t expect that we’ll see everybody cancel their cable bill, but if enough people begin to take advantage of this type of equipment, hopefully we’ll see some of the cable companies begin to rethink their fee increases.

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New Media Bounty Hunters http://davisfreeberg.com/2009/10/28/new-media-bounty-hunters/ http://davisfreeberg.com/2009/10/28/new-media-bounty-hunters/#comments Wed, 28 Oct 2009 16:38:26 +0000 Davis http://davisfreeberg.com/?p=1656 tivobountyThere’s been quite a bit written on how consumers are interacting with TiVo, but there hasn’t been a lot said about how businesses are beginning to use TiVo. Over the past few years, it’s been no secret that TiVo has been beefing up their audience research capabilities and while having access to second by second information is a pretty cool party trick, it’s useless if a business can’t figure out a way to extract profits out of that information. That was why I was pleased to see a blog post by Secret Enemy Hideout discussing a company named Simulmedia whose using TiVo’s data to create an arbitrage opportunity.

“With a set of millions of users, they identify viewing patterns and can predict with certainty how receptive you might be to one television program given that you voluntarily watch some other one. What’s interesting is their business model. Instead of selling the clean data back to the networks like we’d expect, they go back and ask, for example, “How many viewers would you like us to deliver to Mad Men?” Then they take the network’s own marketing assets, like a 15-second trailer, buy commercial slots on other networks, and target the viewers of specific shows who they know will be receptive to Mad Men. In turn, they get paid for the uptick they promised.”

Secret Enemy Hideout calls Simulmedia a new media bounty hunter and as DVR data matures, I expect that the media bounty hunter industry will be a burgeoning one. By having a more intimate understanding of an audience, many different types of advertisers will become increasingly more efficient at extracting value from their ad spend. With billions of dollars a year being spent on television ads, the stakes are huge and while TiVo may not end up being a pariah to the advertisers that can feast off this info, these sorts of bounty hunters certainly won’t endear them to studios. From the studio’s perspective, it’s bad enough that their technology is having a huge disruptive impact on the 30 second commercial, but now TiVo is teaching the studio’s best customers how to get the same exposure by spending less money. As TiVo makes it more and more efficient for marketers, it will take money that is being wasted on the studios and transfer it into the pockets of the companies advertising. Ultimately, this means that ads end up being a lot more relevant to the consumer, but it will also represent a new challenge for the studios to wrestle with, amidst the broader changes brought on by digitization.

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TiVo’s Billions: How TiVo Could Spend Their Legal Jackpot In A Single Day http://davisfreeberg.com/2009/07/21/tivos-billions-how-tivo-could-spend-their-legal-jackpot-in-a-single-day/ http://davisfreeberg.com/2009/07/21/tivos-billions-how-tivo-could-spend-their-legal-jackpot-in-a-single-day/#comments Wed, 22 Jul 2009 06:55:54 +0000 Davis http://davisfreeberg.com/?p=1481 Money In The BankDuring their ten year history, TiVo’s obituary has been written more times than I’ve sat through an entire commercial, yet no matter how tough the climb has been, TiVo has continued to defy critics and skeptics alike by chugging along (as if by sheer will at times.)

Even though the financial wiz kids over at Engadget, still have TiVo on their “death watch”, I’m beginning to see a much different picture. With 6 quarters of EBITA profitability now under their belt, $200 million in cash (minus the zero in debt on their balance sheet), and partnerships with a significant portion of the DVR market waiting to be implemented and rolled out, it’s no surprise that TiVo has gone from being a small cap child with plenty of dissenters, to an emerging mid cap teenager looking to establish a legacy.

The last ten years may have been characterized by one rumor after another of who TiVo was going to be acquired by next, but the next ten years will be a much different chapter for the little DVR that could.

At the risk of counting my chickens before they hatch, I wanted to kick off the next ten years of innovation by highlighting a few companies that TiVo could use to transition themselves from a niche DVR provider to a diversified corporate conglomerate. Of course there’s no guarantee that TiVo will even get the billion dollars that they are asking for, but it’s still fun to spend imaginary money.

SecuriTiVo – For years TiVo has been dragged into a bare knuckle brawl with cable and satellite companies, just for the right to offer their DVR to their customers. Meanwhile, they are ignoring an important untapped stand alone market that their invention created. The home security business might not be as sexy as HBO, but the DVR has had just as big of an impact on the security industry as it’s had on Hollywood’s outdated business model.

Instead of fooling around with a couple hundred of gigabytes, TiVo should be building multi-terrabyte DVRs that can record several weeks worth of high quality footage. TiVo could also sell a consumer version of the system that connects to the DVR in your living room and allows you to see live security video from your couch.

Not only would a security DVR give TiVo a commercial product to sell, but it would also add important reoccurable monthly revenue from on going security contracts. It would also create an opportunity to add an additional revenue stream from high quality video cameras.

Potential Target = The Brink’s Company (Ticker: BCO) – With a current market cap of $1.36 billion, this top notch security outfit may be a little out of TiVo’s reach, but they could certainly consider a joint venture or pounce on them, if the market starts to get cheap. Either way, a free TiVo with your home security system sounds like a great promotion just waiting to happen.

TiVo Charge Card – In 1939, the US was reeling from an economic depression so Fred Lazarus Jr., the CEO of Federated Dept. stores did two important things for his business. First, he convinced President Roosevelt to change Thanksgiving to the last Thursday of November so that it would extend the Christmas shopping season and then he started offering store credit to anyone who would purchase through him. By giving cash starved consumers access to credit during a tough economic climate, Federated Department stores was seen as a friend and patriot during a dark economic period. The impact from these two decisions helped take the company from a struggling retailer to the Goliath that it is today.

When it comes to couch commerce, TiVo faces a similar opportunity. Currently, when you purchase something through your DVR, TiVo stays out of the transaction. Even if you want to order a pizza with a credit card, you’re not able to, TiVo makes you pay cash :( This is probably a good thing for home shopping addicts, but works against’s TiVo’s goal of revolutionizing the advertising business. If they want couch commerce to actually succeed, they must make it easier for consumers to make an actual purchase.

The beauty of a TiVo charge card is that it could be linked directly to your TiVo account once and then capture every purchase after that. If you wanted to rent a movie from Jaman or buy a pair of flip flops from Amazon, it would be the same process and simply require password authorization.

TiVo could also offer discounts on DVR service for balance transfers or for customers who carry larger balances. Extending credit during tough economic times might seem risky, but TiVo needs a better payment solution sooner than later. By putting themselves in a position to become the paypal of television, TiVo could lower the barriers of entry for advertisers, in exchange for a cut of every transaction.

Potential Target = Bank of the Internet (Ticker: BOFI) With a current market cap of $50 million, TiVo could easily acquire this sleepy little bank from San Diego, CA and immediately serve a national audience. Not only would they have the infrastructure in place to start offering credit card services, but TiVo would be picking up a high quality loan portfolio in the process. BOFI’s conservative approach to lending may have hurt investors during the boom years, but when the credit bust hit, it proved that there was wisdom in their prudence.

SlingTiVo – When Sling first introduced place shifting to the DVR community, TiVo choose not to implement the functionality directly into their software. My guess is that they were concerned that a feature enjoyed by the fringe, could spark a lawsuit with the media giants, who’ve had their business model disrupted by TiVo’s fast fowarding powers.

Holding off on introducing place shifting may have been the right choice when the technology was still young, but internet video has changed a lot since Sling was founded. While the legality of placeshifting still hasn’t been affirmed by the courts, even Sony is selling a placeshifting device to their customers. With placeshifting starting to reach a more mainstream audience, now is the time for TiVo to introduce this capability to their customers.

Potential Target = Echostar (Ticker: SATS) – Without the ability to manufactuer DVRs for Dish customers, Echostar may find that their business isn’t worth all that much. With a market cap of $1.31 billion, TiVo could offer an olive branch to Dish, in exchange for the Echostar/DVR side of the business. Frankly, I’d rather see them bankrupt Dish and buyout the satellite business in a vulture sale, but the poetic justice alone makes this one worth consideration.

TiVoPages – One of the problems with TiVo’s current advertising setup is that they are kind of taking a walled garden approach to selling the ads. There are strict requirements on the content allowed on the service and only certain agencies are really given access to the inventory. This may be necessary to butter the toast of their Stop Watch customers, but it also limits what TiVo can become.

Why not make it so that anyone can upload a video ad to TiVo and inexpensively reach the TiVo audience based on screening criteria similar to Google’s Adsense program? I may be a small business, but if the costs are low and I can target local viewers or people who fit a certain demographic profile, I’d advertise through TiVo in a heartbeat. TiVo should play to their strengths and become a video Craigslist for the time shifted generation.

Potential Target = Razorfish – Two years ago, Microsoft paid $6 billion for the company. Today they are rumored to be looking for $600 – $700 million to spin off the ad agency. Owning an agency might ruffle some feathers with some StopWatch customers, but Razorfish would give TiVo the infrastructure they need to their take their advertising program, beyond major, one time, national partnerships. By better implementing their advertising programs, TiVo could create a platform where local businesses could reach local viewers in their markets.

DigiTiVo – TiVo may be one of a handful of solutions for letting consumers watch digital video on their televisions, but they could go a long way towards improving their current implementation. One of the problems with trying to watch various internet video types on your TiVo is that TiVo needs to transcode the video before it will play on your screen.

Currently, customers can either hack their machines for free access or they can pay $25 for a copy of TiVo Desktop plus. While I don’t expect TiVo to support every flavor of codec out there, it would be nice if they threw their support behind a standard and tried to come up with a more seemless experience for their customers. It may be too late for them to get a piece of Adobe or to crack their way into Quicktime or Silverlight, but there are still smaller codec companies that could help.

Potential Target = DivX – (Ticker: DIVX) with a market cap of $175 million, TiVo could easily afford to buy the digital video company and use their contacts to adopt more of a licensing approach to the DVR business. By taking advantage of the profits from the codec business, TiVo could help to subsidize more robust codec support for their subscribers.

HuluTiVo – One of TiVo’s advantages is that they’ve managed to remain neutral despite competing in some pretty tough battlegrounds. In the past, TiVo has taken on the media giants, but now may be the time for them to lay down their arms and secure a stake in the next generation of television.

Love it or hate it, the Hulu cartel has been able to establish themselves as a major broadcaster in the narrowcast world. To date, other media companies have been reluctant to share Hulu on the television, but with TiVo’s relatively small subscriber base, they could be seen as a safe testing ground for experimentation. By implementing direct response ads into the actual programming, TiVo and the major media companies could finally benefit from working together instead of against each other.

A Hulu ownership position might make it harder for TiVo to sign more deals like UnBox and WatchNow, but I think if they stayed focused on advertising supported programming, they could still attract plenty of premium and subscription based partners.

Potential Target = Hulu – The company has raised $130 million to date at a billion dollar valuation, but with the market being down its hard to know what it would be valued at now. Given the “digital dimes” that Hulu is producing, one could argue that the weak market should offer new investors a discount, but one could also argue that given Hulu’s growth, a billion may be cheap. It’d be hard to convince Hulu’s current owners to sell or even innovate to the television, but I know more than a few TiVo customers who would love to see Hulu show up on their Now Playing lists.

NinTiVo – Even with TiVo’s new found purchasing power, buying out one of the three video game companies simply isn’t going to happen, so TiVo would either need to invest in building out their own billion dollar console or license one from Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft to create a killer DVR/PC/Console compatible platform. With three major companies fighting for a highly competitive industry, a partnership with TiVo would be highly sought after and could at least give them a seat at the negotiation table.

Potential Target = Take Two Interactive (Ticker: TTWO) – Take Two’s bad boy Grand Theft image wouldn’t compliment TiVo’s KidZone initiatives, but it would give them access to an instant powerhouse in the video game industry. With a market cap at $690 million, TiVo could easily acquire the company for a billion and tone down the bad boy image. With an exclusive on several of the hottest games out there, a partnership with a major console manufactuerer and a beefed up TiVo that acts more like a high end gaming PC/DVR combo then a VCR, TiVo could create a big splash with the gaming crowd.

Hotel TiVofornia – One of the biggest reasons why TiVo isn’t more popular with consumers is because it’s hard to know how much you’re missing until you’re actually a customer. Getting someone to buy a DVR in the first place is tough, but getting them to give it up is even tougher. What TiVo needs is an easy and cost effective way to introduce their DVR to the masses.

Whenever I stay at a hotel, the television is awful. If a national hotel chain were to partner with TiVo to let me schedule programing while I’m there, I know that they would become my default choice when I traveled. To date, TiVo has dabbled with these types of programs, but with the extra money they could kick this program into hyperdrive. By building out more support for hotel rooms, TiVo could secretly expose millions of travelers to a commercial for their DVR without travelers ever realizing that it could be the last ad that they’d ever have to tune into.

Potential Target = Boyd’s (Ticker: BYD) – With the Vegas economy still dealing with the after shocks of the credit crisis, Boyd’s market cap has fallen to $760 million. With a little bit of elbow grease and some slick marketing, TiVo could buy the hotel and pick up a casino as a bonus. With a Vegas style monument to the DVR, TiVo could let you gamble from your hotel DVR. You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.

TiVoTube – Over the last few years, a lot of people have mocked Google for their $1.6 billion acquisition of YouTube, but in retrospect, it’s starting to look like a brilliant acquisition by the search giant. Not only did Google continue to expand their dominance on the web, but they picked up a major future broadcaster in the process.

It’s too late for TiVo to get their slice of YouTube, but it doens’t mean that other video sites wouldn’t be a good fit for them.

Potential Target = Dailymotion.com – With TiVo looking to expand DVR service into Europe and Asia, Dailymotion could very well be the beachhead they need with international audiences. This one would probably have the biggest risk associated with it because of the hosting costs and potential copyright headaches, but with Dailymotion having only raised $43 million so far, TiVo could probably offer $300 million and set aside the other $700 million to figure out the business model.

1-800-TiVo-Fon – I wish that I could take credit for this idea, but I originally found out about TiVo-Fon two years when a research report surfaced online by two teams of University students studying the idea. Unfortunately, I lost track of the link so it will have to remain internet legend for the time being, but the system they described worked similar to the Movie-Fon hotline that you can buy theater tickets with.

To use the service, you would link your DVR to your cell phone number so that you could call 1-800-TiVo-Fon and immediately go into the main menu choices. Currently, TiVo does have a cell phone app, but it costs money to use and doesn’t allow you to schedule things at the last minute. With TiVo-Fon any cell phone could call and a voice recognition system could be set up to take you to the program you want to schedule. This way if you’re at dinner and someone mentions that there is something good on at home, you could order your recording and have it pushed into your box, so that you can watch it when you get home.

Potential Target = Fandango – Fandango is a fellow .com mania survivor who managed to scrape together an impressive business by being early and disruptive. Early on, TiVo and Fandango partnered to offer movie ticket reservations through the DVR and may even represent their first couch commerce transaction. Two years ago Comcast paid close to $200 million for the ticket company, but I think TiVo could buy them for less than $150 million. With the right budget and some slick marketing, TiVo could use Fandango to take on TicketMaster and StubHub.

TiVo Video Conferencing – It’s 2009 already, but where are all of the video phones. Making it easy to attach a camera and Microphone to your TiVo would really change what it means to reach out and touch somebody. By adding VOIP and business support, TiVo could expand their services into the commercial marketplace.

Potential Target = Skype – When you consider that Ebay paid $2.6 billion for Skype in 2005, this one may seem like a longshot, but telecommunications has only gotten more competitive since then and Ebay’s already signaled their intention to exit the business. By picking up the popular program and making a subsequent acquisition for a small relationship management company like Zoho, TiVo could build a multimedia telecommunications solution that would rival Salesforce.com

TiVo Networking – One of the biggest challenges that TiVo faced early on was trying to convince consumers of the benefit to plugging your DVR into the internet. Owning a networking company wouldn’t necessarily make this any easier, but it would help to further wedge TiVo into the center of the digital media experience. If there were enough synergies for it to make sense for Cisco to buy Scientific Atlantic, then it makes just as much sense for TiVo to acquire a networking company.

Potential Target = Netgear (symbol: NTGR) – A few years ago Netgear had a market cap that was almost four times larger then TiVo’s but today they weigh in at $540 million. With a profitable business model and revenue that is nearly three times what TiVo is currently bringing in, a $700 million bid wouldn’t be ridiculous.

TiVo Extender – Over the years, TiVo customers have loved the service so much that many of them have purchased multiple units. TiVo charges an extra fee to add an additional DVR, but doesn’t really make much of a profit because they are forced to subsidize the hardware purchase with smaller multi-room viewing fees.

Instead of trying to get their customers to buy multiple DVRs, TiVo should instead allow the first DVR to act like a server and then have extender devices inexpensively tap into the main DVR signal. This would allow TiVo to sell hardware at a profit and give away multi-room viewing to their customers. With companies like AT&T making a big deal about their muti-room capabilities, TiVo could use an extender strategy to undercut them in pricing.

Potential Target = Roku – Netflix may have put Roku on the map, but the company is headed for greatness on their own. We don’t know a lot about their valuation, but if you consider that they’ve only raised $6 million in VC backing, I think that it’d be easy for TiVo to pick them up for less than $50 million. Not only would the other TiVo video services compliment Roku subscribers, but it would be an easy and cost effective way to solve the multi-room limitations.

Some of these ideas are admittedly a bit far fetched, but you have to admit that they would make interesting mergers. While I don’t expect that we’ll see TiVo go on any big shopping sprees soon, as their cash bulks up and their legal victory pulls through, expect to see more people asking what they plan to do with the money.

What do you think, if FakeTomRogers stepped aside and you were hired you as the new CEO of TiVo, what would you do with a billion dollar jackpot?

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Does Dish Have The Antidote? http://davisfreeberg.com/2009/06/15/does-dish-have-the-antidote/ http://davisfreeberg.com/2009/06/15/does-dish-have-the-antidote/#comments Mon, 15 Jun 2009 13:50:15 +0000 Davis http://davisfreeberg.com/?p=1126 bearhugI hate to admit it, but I’m feeling a little foolish right now. Last week, I raised the question of whether or not Dish was researching a hostile takeover of TiVo? In my article, I concluded that they might try, but that they’d never be able to afford the $7.5 billion poison pill that came with it.

Since then, I’ve spent more time researching the pill and realize that I made a terrible mistake. Not only is there an antidote, but Dish may already have it.

Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this pill, but could never figure a way around it. It wasn’t until I asked myself a simple question, that the solution became so obvious. What would Charlie do?

Love him or hate him Dish CEO Charlie Ergen has a special kind of brilliance. His reputation as a fearsome litigator is legendary and more than once he has demonstrated his mastery for the fine art of negotiation. Over the years, his decisions have created huge growth for Dish (albeit at great risks.) Unfortunately, his penchant for the legal system may have finally caught up with him and now he finds himself struggling in quicksand with the prospect of having to buy rope from TiVo.

To get a better picture of his frame of mind, I turned to his own testimony from last February. (Via Mainer’s Law Library)

Q: Is the following an accurate statement, that Echostar would lose $90 million per month if it had to comply full with the terms of the injunction, assuming it’s properlty interpreted as requiring you to disable DVR functionality in the specified product lines?
Ergen: There would have been a time fame that, that would have been an accurate statement. Today that,
Q: Ninety –-
Ergen: Today it would be more than that. Today would be more than $90 million dollars
Q: And how much would it be a month today?
Ergen: Would be probably several hundred — It would be over several hundred million dollars, I don’t know exactly, I don’t have the figures in front of me, but it would be more today.
Q: Several hundred million dollars a month?
Ergen: It may be as much as several hundred million dollars a month.

I don’t know about you, but if I spent the last 30 years of my life building a business and all of a sudden was faced with the prospect of losing several hundred million dollars a month, it’s a good bet that I’d be willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that this doesn’t happen. I don’t care how big you are, after a few months, hundreds of millions turns into billions and after billions in losses vultures have a tendency to sweep in and pick off your carcass.

Even before we see how this plays out, S&P is already circling. From their June 10th assessment of Dish’s credit rating.

“With nearly $1.2 billion in cash and marketable securities and very moderate leverage for the current ‘BB-’ rating, Dish could easily fund the $103 million of new judgments and penalties without a ratings impact, it said. However, the longer term effect on the company’s credit profile would depend on the strategic path Dish takes to resolve the DVR issues, S&P said. If Dish were to enter into a licensing arrangement with TiVo, which S&P said was the most likely scenario, there would be no effect on Dish’s BB- corporate credit rating” [Note: Bold added by me]

If Mr. Ergen believes his own testimony, then his only frame of mind has to be one of desperation. He is left with only two solutions.

He can try and negotiate a settlement with an empty gun or he can go for an all-in bluff and try to buy TiVo in a dangerous gamble.

Now I don’t know whether or not TiVo has actually refused to settle with Dish, but if they really are serious about enforcing their right to NOT license their technology, then Charlie really only has one option. In my opinion, I see TiVo digging further into the trenches. Take a look at Tom Roger’s comments from the Q3 2009 conference call as a good example,

“We will pursue with great aggressiveness the resolution of these issues in a way that hopefully will lead to the imposition of the injunction but I just wanted to make clear that the right to appeal is not one without the ability of the court to handle this situation and bring it to ultimate resolution.”

Or if you want to get a closer glimpse into how TiVo feels about the injunction, take a look at TiVo’s most recent argument for why Dish doesn’t deserve a stay of execution,

“The right to exclude conferred by TiVo’s patent is empty if it can never be enforced. Since this Court entered its previous stay, TiVo has lost 25% of its DVR subscribers, while EchoStar’s have nearly doubled. Ex. 1 (Brunelle Decl. Ex. A). That harm can never be fully redressed through damages. Entry of yet another stay will undermine respect for district court process and severely prejudice TiVo.”

further in their response,

“EchoStar is a large, aggressive competitor, more than willing to pay damages (and face contempt charges) so long as it can continue to do as it likes Granting a stay here will distort the patent system by encouraging other infringers to make minor changes to their adjudicated products and then seek further stays in order to keep operating even after they are held in contempt. With deep-pocketed infringers, endless cycles of purported change and ensuing litigation will reduce the right to exclude to little more than a compulsory license—and one enforceable only through rounds of litigation that not only drain a patentee’s resources but allow rapidly-evolving modern markets to be shaped by infringing competition in ways that go far beyond monetary harm.” [Note: Bold added by me]

The more that I look at things from Charlie’s perspective, the more it becomes clear that he doesn’t have a choice in this scenario. He must buy TiVo. The future of his business would depend upon it.

This leaves just two questions, how much can he spend and how does he do it? If Dish currently has $1.2 billion in cash and short term securities, it would give them enough firepower to easily get 50% at recent market prices, but it wouldn’t be enough to pay for the poison pill.

Dish could probably raise another $2.5 billion before their debt would start to get too expensive, so for the sake of argument, let’s say that their budget is around $3.5 billion. When you consider TiVo’s tax losses, their cash on hand, and what Dish actually owes them in licensing fees (plus punitive damages :) ), they’d probably really only end up paying $2.5 billion to make this acquisition happen.

So if Charlie came to me and said, Davis here’s a pile of money I want you to engineer a hostile takeover, here’s how I’d do it

Since making a tender offer would trigger the pill, my only option would be to try and acquire more than 50% of TiVo’s stock on the open market before anyone found out about it. One problem I would face with this strategy is that as soon as I purchased more than 5%, I’d have a mere ten days to complete my acquisition before I’d be forced to tell the world about it (11 or 12 days if the deadline falls on a weekend).

Since this would make this strategy very dangerous, I’d want to wait as long as I could before trying to pounce. Once the judgment was final though, I’d move as quickly as I could to mask the accumulation with publicity from the verdict.

On day 2, I’d continue to buy heavy shares to try and simulate the appearance of quick profit taking. By the time day 3 rolled around, I’d slow things down so the market wouldn’t catch on to the significance of what was happening. Days 4 – 9, I’d continue to add, but in a very controlled and deliberate manner. It wouldn’t be until day 10 that I’d go bonkers and buy anything on the market because at that point every share I purchased would be one that I didn’t have to pay an extra $60 for.

Where my math was flawed when I was originally calculated the cost of TiVo’s poison, was that I didn’t consider the shares Dish wouldn’t have to pay a $60 dividend on (their own.) If they could accumulate 50% of the company for $1 billion, then they’d owe $3.5 billion to the remaining TiVo shareholders. If they grabbed 60% for a billion, they’d only be on the hook for another $3 billion in poison. If they could actually buy 70% of TiVo’s shares, they’d get away with a $3.2 billion total acquisition (the equivalent of $28 per share even after paying $71 to the shareholders who hold out.)

A price that seems reasonable given the gravity of their situation.

The danger in using this strategy is that just like a snake, Echostar would be most vulnerable when it was feeding. If the market (or TiVo) somehow got wind of this 8O it could very well threaten Charlie’s ownership stake in Dish.

You see, TiVo has a provision in their pill that says if someone triggers the pill, but then can’t pay for it, they have to pay in stock worth .50 cents on the dollar. Based on Dish Network and TiVo’s current market caps, this would mean that if TiVo managed to choke Dish on an acquisition, they’d end up owning roughly 65% of Dish’s stock.

While there is no way for me to know whether or not Echostar really is in the process of a hostile takeover, there is evidence to suggest that this scenario is possible.

I don’t want to read too much into technical indicators, but if you look at TiVo’s money flow index, you’ll see that it spiked from a score of 50 to 90 following TiVo’s latest win. In 2006, TiVo’s money index hit 80 following the initial verdict, but it was already at 80 going into it. The money flow index measures the eagerness of buyers for a particular security. It looks at the high mid and low points that a stock trades at and takes into account the volume that buyers and sellers are trading at. Anything over 80 is usually considered over bought, but it would be impossible for anyone to achieve a hostile takeover without tripping this index off the charts. To put the significance of this score in perspective, you have to go back to the wild days of 2001 to find a time where TiVo’s money index was at a higher level.

The day after TiVo’s most recent court victory, their stock traded a record 38 million shares. They very next day TiVo saw 12.5 million shares change hands. To the man on the street, this may not mean anything, but for a stock that normally sees 1.5 million shares of action, this is extremely significant. Two days alone represented nearly 50% of TiVo’s total shares outstanding. The mainstream media never picked up on this story, but Bloomberg’s reporters knew enough to be incredulous when they found out how much volume TiVo was seeing post judgement.

Some will dismiss this spike in volume as speculators and day trading following a well publicized judgment, but I’m concerned that something much more sinister is happening. While TiVo did see 30 million shares trade hands following their 2006 verdict, the situation leading up to that spike in volume was very different. In the week prior to their 2006 verdict, they averaged 6 million shares per day as speculators clearly bet on the result of the trial. After the victory, there was heavy volume, but there was also heavy volatility as people cashed in their winning tickets. Over the course of two days, TiVo shareholders watched their shares jump from $8.05 to $9.80 and back down to $8.20 a share. Over the course of 8 days, investors traded an average of 6.6 million shares a day.

This time around has been very different. TiVo’s stock has been steadily increasing and continues to set higher highs and higher lows in most of their trading sessions. In the five days prior to their latest court win, TiVo averaged 2 million shares per day, but in the 8 trading days that have followed, they’ve averaged almost 10 million shares a day. To get a sense of the difference in volume between now and 2006, see the following graph.

TiVo Volume Before and After Court Victories

We don’t know whether or not it was Dish or market forces that caused 50% of TiVo’s stock to trade on June 3rd and 4th, but we do know that these transactions took place. If Dish was in fact the buyer, I would guess that over the last 8 trading days, Dish probably has picked up a 45% stake in TiVo for about a half a billion. If this is the case, it would mean that they are still on the hook for another $4 billion.

Even if they were to pay $20 per share for the remaining 25%, they could easily hit a 70% target, assuming that they were willing to spend the half a billion that would be left in their bank account.

How could TiVo defend against this? They would need to poison the snake with more venom. Currently, they are authorized to conduct a secondary offering for up to 170 million additional shares. I wouldn’t recommend trying to go to market with all of those, but for every dollar TiVo raises, it would cost Dish $7 to make an acquisition.

If TiVo was to do a 10 – 30 million share offering in a secondary, it would add $700 million to $2.1 billion more to the cost of an acquisition. If they actually managed to catch Charlie while he’s feeding, they’d seize control over Dish Networks.

While this conspiracy theory is based on speculation and is admitedly a long shot, it’s possible that this could be going on. If TiVo sees the type of crazy volume it would take for Dish to get to the final 70%, I would hope that TiVo management would be cunning enough to contact their bankers and get those extra shares out into the market.

Either way though, it won’t take long to find out whether I’m looking like a goat or a genius on this one. If Echostar really is in the midst of a hostile takeover, we’ll find out today (June 15th), after the market closes. If we don’t see a 13-D filing, you can chalk this one up to crazy Uncle Freeberg chasing aliens again, but if by some wild chance I’m actually right, then David will have figured out a way to slay Goliath with little more than their wits and a pebble aimed squarely at Dish’s forehead.

Update – A hostile takeover may have been possible when I published my post this morning, but as of today’s filing deadline, Dish hasn’t disclosed a position in TiVo. This would make a takeover at this point highly unlikely unless we see volume spike again. I’d still like to see TiVo issue a few more shares to beef up the pill, but for now they should be out of the woods. Sorry for getting everybody excited, but it looks like I’m going to end up looking like a goat on this one. At least it was fun to think about the what if’s of trying to break the pill. Since I was wrong about the filing, I probably should go back and reconsider the health benefits of the tin-foil suit . . .

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Dish Researching Hostile TiVo Takeover? http://davisfreeberg.com/2009/06/09/dish-researching-hostile-tivo-takeover/ http://davisfreeberg.com/2009/06/09/dish-researching-hostile-tivo-takeover/#comments Wed, 10 Jun 2009 00:41:33 +0000 Davis http://davisfreeberg.com/?p=1083 Dish Trying To Poison TiVo

It’s been over 5 years since TiVo filed their patent lawsuit against Dish, but we’re finally reaching the endgame of what has been an epic chess match between the two companies. Between the he said/she said arguments that have played out in the press to the endless legal maneuvers by both camps, it has been a long and brutal battle for both. As a TiVo shareholder, I know that I’ve found the long delays especially frustrating.

In the latest development in this high stakes game though, TiVo has managed to pin Dish into a dangerous checkmate situation. With appeals quickly running out, Dish’s options are becoming increasingly limited. While things look pretty dire for Dish, I believe that they may try to play one more dangerous gambit before this game is up.

I think they might try to buy TiVo.

While looking through my traffic logs, I came across a very interesting visitor ;) In 2006, I wrote an article referencing a poison pill TiVo implemented in 2001. Since Google loves bloggers so much, my story somehow ended up near the top of the page for the search term TiVo poison pill. Given recent analyst chatter that TiVo could be an M&A target, I’m not surprised that people would be interested in taking a closer look at the nuts and bolts behind the agreement, but I was surprised at where my visitor was coming from.

While there is no way for me to know who it was, someone at Echostar’s corporate HQ’s spent 25 minutes researching an article that I wrote on the topic. Their outclick took them to the legal document that contains all of the nitty gritty details on how the pill actually works.

Now, there could be any number of explanations for why someone at Echostar would be interested in TiVo’s anti-takeover provisions, but the most likely one is that they’re interested in making some kind of play at TiVo.

On June 4th, the Eastern District of Texas District Court announced that they were holding Dish in contempt for continuing to infringe on TiVo’s timewarp patent. (via Mainers’ Law Library) Dish may have been able to get a temporary stay on the injunction, but the eventual impact of the ruling could end up being devastating.

The order against them contains two crucial components, the first is a requirement to disable all infringing DVRs. For Dish to comply with this portion of the injunction, it will probably cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 – $400 million. This type of expense would hurt, but it wouldn’t necessarily put them behind the 8-ball.

The far more damaging portion of Folsom’s order is the infringement provision. This prevents Echostar from replacing these DVRs with other DVR set top boxes.

“The DVR functionality, storage to and playback from a hard disk drive, shall not be enabled in any new placements of the Infringing Products.” (bold added by me)

The inability to offer a DVR to their customers would put Dish at a severe competitive disadvantage. Furthermore, because Dish has now been caught trying to sneak a “replacement” DVR in through a redesigned back door, they now must seek court approval prior to deploying any new DVR solutions.

Now I realize that there are still a lot of people who haven’t adopted DVR technology yet, but for those who have, you know that once you get a sweet taste for time shifted entertainment, there’s no going back.

Survey after survey after survey has confirmed that people LOVE their DVRs and while I can’t speak for others, I know that if my television provider disabled my ability to record television, it would take less than a week before I found a replacement.

Dish doesn’t breakdown their current number of DVR subscribers, but during their most recent earnings call, Dish CEO Charlie Ergen acknowledged that the “majority” of their customers buy advanced DVRs and/or HD services. This would suggest that that as many as 8 million Dish subscribers could potentially lose access to DVR technology.

While the cost of replacing the set top boxes could hurt Dish’s earnings, the loss of even 10% of their subscriber base would do terrible things to their stock price. Customer defections and the inability to remain competitive could easily cost Dish shareholders, $3 – 4 billion in lost market cap.

Given the strength of TiVo’s position, several analysts have suggested that Dish may finally be ready to enter into a settlement agreement with TiVo and while forfeiting the game at this late stage would help to prevent an unmitigated disaster for Dish, I don’t believe that TiVo is willing to accept such a forfeit.

Instead I think TiVo is planning a North Korea strategy. For years, they’ve been unable to command respect in their industry and as more and more generic DVRs have hit the market, TiVo has seen their market share eaten away by larger competitors. Now that TiVo possesses a nuclear DVR patent, it opens up new avenues for “conversations” between them and their competitors.

A fat royalty check from Dish would be good for TiVo shareholders, but having the ability to strike fear into the heart of the MSO industry is worth considerably more in increased pricing power. Some may believe that a settlement is inevitable, but I believe that TiVo would have already entered into an agreement long ago, if they weren’t crazy enough to actually push the red button.

Even before TiVo’s latest legal victory, this bargaining power has enabled them to forge agreements with Cox, Comcast and DirecTV. Once companies like Time Warner and AT&T realize that TiVo is both ready and willing to put this kind of hurt on a business, it makes it a lot more palpable to swallow the carrot that TiVo offers through DVR partnerships.

If you assume that TiVo will eventually win this case and that they have no intention of settling with Dish, the only logical move left for Dish to try and make is an expensive acquisition.

After five years of litigation, I would hate to see Dish win this by seizing control of a company that they’ve done everything to squash. Fortunately for TiVo they should have a lot of leverage to negotiate. Their pill wouldn’t prevent an outright acquisition, but it would make it extremely expensive for someone to buy TiVo without the board of Director’s approval.

Based on my understanding of the complex agreement, in the event that Dish (or another acquirer) were to accumulate more than 15% of TiVo’s shares (or even announce the intention to acquire more than 15% of the shares), it would trip a provision that would entitle the other TiVo shareholders to a special $60 per share dividend :) This means that if Dish were to forcibly acquire TiVo, it would cost them $71 per share or close to $7.5 billion (more than Dish’s entire market cap.) If Dish tried to pay for the transaction in stock, TiVo shareholders would be entitled to $13.5 billion ($131 per share) in the buyout.

With TiVo’s stock currently trading at $1.15 billion ($11 per share), this type of premium would be too bitter of a pill for Dish to swallow.

While it’s possible that we could see Dish challenge the poison pill legally (I hear that they have an attorney or two working for them), the only other option that I can see around this restriction would be for Dish to somehow convince TiVo shareholders to get rid of the pill at next month’s annual shareholder meeting.

This would be a long shot in and of itself (and one that I’m not even sure would be allowed per TiVo’s bylaws), but this feat is made even more difficult when you consider the fact that you would have had to have been a TiVo shareholder prior to the most recent judgment, in order to be eligible to vote on this kind of initiative.

While I’m doubtful that Echostar would succeed in an attempt to acquire TiVo, at the very least it’s interesting to see them thinking about it.

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Revisiting Ghosts of TiVos’ Past http://davisfreeberg.com/2009/04/14/revisiting-ghosts-of-tivos-past/ http://davisfreeberg.com/2009/04/14/revisiting-ghosts-of-tivos-past/#comments Tue, 14 Apr 2009 21:40:04 +0000 Davis http://davisfreeberg.com/?p=944 TiVo Graveyard
Photo via the Tombstone Generator

Last night, I decided to do a little bit of spring cleaning with my TiVo and stumbled onto a treasure trove of memories. With the TV season starting to wind down, I needed to make some tough choices on what I wanted to continue to follow and what shows it was time to give up on. While I have a few core shows that I love, one of my favorite parts of the television experience is checking out new TV programs, so there were a lot of programs to go through. I’ll usually decide within 2 or 3 episodes whether or not to keep a season pass, but this season I’ve given a couple of shows way too much patience.

When I was browsing through my Season Pass manager, I realized that I must have terrible taste in programs because a healthy chunk of the shows listed had already been canceled. My TiVo was littered with tombstones of promising shows and pilots that had ended. Neil Young sang that “it’s better to burn out than to fade away” and when it comes to TV, I couldn’t agree more. While there have been some heavy publicized cancellations, most of the dead shows disappeared with nary a whimper. In fact, it wasn’t until I started to write this blog post that I found out that some of my more recent picks had ended :(

After flipping through the current batch of killed pilots, I decided go back even further and list every show that’s ended, while I’ve owned and subscribed to it on TiVo. The following is my TiVo graveyard (listed in order of priority of course.)

The 4400
The Jamie Kennedy Experiment
Dirty Sexy Money
New Amsterdam
My Own Worst Enemy
Welcome To The Captain
The Lone Gunman
Drawn Together
La Femme Nikita
Dark Angel
1 Vs. 100
Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place
Strangers With Candy
Ally McBeal
Veronica Mars
Party of Five
The Ex-List
Prison Break
Malcom In The Middle
Just Shoot Me
Kid Nation
Dharma & Greg
Eli Stone
Andy Barker P.I.
Spin City
Freaks & Geeks
Last Comic Standing
Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Andy Richter Controls The Universe
Pirate Master
Treasure Hunters
The Con
Dog Bites Man
Dead Like Me
Las Vegas
Tripping The Rift
Pushing Daises
Aliens In America
Conspiracy Zone
Crank Yankers
The Weakest Link
The Bionic Woman
Celebrity Deathmatch
The Mole
I’m With Busey

*As an added bonus, if you’re interested in checking out the new premiers that haven’t aired yet, I highly recommend an RSS subscription to GeekTonic’s coverage.

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Back TiVo Future http://davisfreeberg.com/2009/04/01/back-tivo-future/ http://davisfreeberg.com/2009/04/01/back-tivo-future/#comments Wed, 01 Apr 2009 14:32:18 +0000 Davis http://davisfreeberg.com/?p=930 TiVo Super Advanced ModeYou’ve got to hand it to TiVo. 10 years and 1 day after celebrating the production of the first TiVo DVR, they’ve taken a big leap ahead by adding the ability to fast forward through live TV. TiVotees already know that you can wait 20 minutes after a show starts and then can fast forward through the commercials until you get caught up, but with this new technology, you can now start watching 20 minutes ahead of time and wait while the rest of the world catches up with you.

Steve Fox at PC World has the skinny on the new program.

“As we’ve come to expect from TiVo, basic recording and timeshifting functionality is effortless, and the interface remains unchanged from previous models. More important, the SuperAdvance feature is easy to find and activate: A red “SA mode” icon appears in the bottom righthand corner of the screen whenever the feature is available; you simply click the icon once, and presto–you jump 58 seconds forward.”

While Fox sounded impressed by the technology, it did have a few snafus. Because of limitations to the overclocking of the DVR, you’ll need multiple TiVo’s in order to get more then a 1 minute jump on live TV. In my own beta tests, I’ve also noticed that when overclocking the DVR unit, it has a tendency to catch fire while watching reality TV programming. I haven’t figured out why only reality TV seems impacted, but it especially doesn’t seem to care for Jerry Springer.

Another complaint Fox has is the cost of daisy chaining multiple DVRs together. While it’s true that it’s expensive to buy a dozen TiVo units just so that you can fast forward into the future, the power of the technology pays for itself. I like to use mine to watch CNBC and will short stocks before they recommend them. Given CNBC’s reputation for stellar financial reporting, this is essentially like printing money.

When I inquired with TiVo about the rumor that this feature would only be available on April 1st of each year, they had no comment.

One final restriction to the super fast forward functionality is that TiVo apparently needs copyright approval ahead of time before they can unlock a program. Some channels seem Ok with this, but other programs are much more secretive. When I contacted Hell’s Kitchen star Gordon Ramsey for a comment on why he choose to not include his show in the beta trials, he told me that it was because “no #$%&(* chef worth a lick of salt can bake a decent lasagna in less than an hour.”

Hard to tell whether or not this functionality will be a hit with consumers, but it’s good to see TiVo fast forwarding into the future. While in the past, I’ve been critical of people spoiling TV shows I was saving on my TiVo, it’s nice to finally be able to turn the tables on them by using TiVo super fast foward to spoil their live TV experience.

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