TiVo Needs a Rosetta Stone

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Sometimes I wish that TiVo's (Nasdaq: TIVO  ) roadmap were a bit clearer. The scribbles we shareholders must go by these days look like Egyptian hieroglyphs to most investors.

Wednesday night, CEO Tom Rogers kicked off the first-quarter earnings call with this rosy introduction: "We are more excited about our business now than ever before, and here's why." Allow me to summarize Rogers' points.

Subscribers are flocking to TiVo's services. 206,000 customers joined the TiVo bandwagon this quarter, and Rogers expects a cool million new subscribers to sign up in the next year.

There are new licensing deals on the way, supposedly modeled after the court-mandated pacts recently signed by DISH Network (Nasdaq: DISH  ) and AT&T (NYSE: T  ) . The main difference is, TiVo licensees who sign distribution and technology licenses on their own don't have to worry about cutting big checks to cover patent infringement damages for their existing digital video recorders.

The company is transforming into an intellectual property wrangler, slinging high-margin license deals rather than building expensive and risky set-top box inventories. One caveat here: TiVo does sell plenty of hardware directly to cable and satellite TV operators. It's the retail presence that's going away.

Finally, the company might start buying back shares if prices on the open market stay low. Many companies waste money by the boatload on share buybacks, but there's no question that TiVo looks cheap right now.

Looks pretty clear to me, but then I've been following this story very closely for more than a decade. Mr. Market, on the other hand, ignored all of this, focusing instead on misadventures in the inventory and litigation games. Shares dropped as much as 8% on Thursday as TiVo missed Wall Street's targets on both the top and bottom lines.

The company ended up with $2.3 million in excess inventory this quarter, and those unshipped boxes both reduced revenue and poured red ink all over the bottom line. Moreover, TiVo spent $1.4 million more than expected on litigation moves against Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) Motorola Mobility and Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC  ) . Excluding these negative surprises, TiVo's non-GAAP profits would have landed nearly $2 million above the original guidance range

So TiVo has a pretty clear path to future profitability, but all of that is masked by today's negative earnings and miscalculated hardware needs. Rogers ended the earnings call with something of a promise: "Are we making financial progress and how quickly are we making it?" he said. "With those trends and the approaching EBITDA breakeven ex litigation that we expect to have this year, you see things coming into much, much clearer focus."

That focus might pull TiVo's shares out of this protracted slump. The stock has lost 27% of its value over the last three months. I'm holding my shares with a $15 price target, but I might have to wait until next year to hit that goal. If you don't want to wait that long, The Fool has found a no-brainer growth company worthy of being called "The Motley Fool's Top Stock for 2012." The report is offered for a limited time only and is entirely free, so click here to learn more.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares of TiVo but holds no other position in any of the companies mentioned. Check out Anders' holdings and bio, or follow him on Twitter and Google+. The Fool owns shares of Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Google. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

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