TiVo Tunes In Patents

I know it seems like I'm writing about digital video recorder pioneer TiVo (Nasdaq: TIVO  ) daily. But that's because every day the Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick gets more interesting to me. Take this morning, for example. After a bit of spelunking for news, I found that TiVo bought six patents from IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) at the end of March, bringing its total portfolio to 76. (More than 100 are still pending.)

Though that's mildly interesting, the news is what TiVo actually bought. According to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the patents relate to audience research and measurement, integration of TV signals and Internet access, automatic rescheduling of recordings, content screening, enhanced program information search, and electronic program guide interface enhancements. There's no telling exactly what most of these mean, because the filing doesn't provide details. But I think it's fair to say that TiVo is trying to build the best portal to your TV available, which, in turn, would make it an awfully attractive advertising platform. As Foolish colleague Rick Munarriz posited yesterday, TiVo may be the new Madison Avenue power broker.

Yeah, I know: It's unclear whether ads will ever have an impact on TiVo's revenues. But I wouldn't underestimate the possibility. Consider: Industry analyst reports from last year going back to 2002 suggest a "TiVo effect" that could dampen traditional TV advertising by as much as $7 billion. One report in particular from researcher The Yankee Group predicts TiVo viewers will use fast-forwarding to zap $5.5 billion worth of ads. Even if those estimates are aggressive -- and the Foolish investor ought to assume they are -- that still leaves a multibillion-dollar market for TiVo and distribution partners Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA  ) and DirecTV (NYSE: DTV  ) to tap into. That's pretty good for a firm that boasts only $172 million in revenue today.

How will the patents play into the portal strategy? That's simple. EchoStar (Nasdaq: DISH  ) proved that anyone could copy the DVR concept. Though the courts will hear TiVo's case against Dish Network, the damage has already been done. DVR knockoffs aren't hard to find. Yet a platform with deep advertising and marketing capabilities is different, and probably more easily protected with patents.

So far, TiVo's popularity hasn't translated into profits. And the stock is still speculative by any measure. But TiVo today is like, well, a good TV show that has yet to make the network lineup. Now's the time to tune in.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers thinks his Dish Network DVR has no personality. Both he and his wife want TiVo. What's your take? Share your thoughts with other Fools at the TiVo discussion board. Tim didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story at the time of publication. You can find out what's in his portfolio by checking Tim's Fool profile, which is here. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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