Like I Said, Google Must Buy TiVo

Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) wants to improve how television ads are brokered by connecting its existing Google TV service -- think of it as AdWords for broadcasters -- to YouTube and other Web video sites, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Not a bad idea, but the Big G can and should do better. First, though, it'll need to buy TiVo (Nasdaq: TIVO  ) .

Wait, haven't we heard this before?
Yes, you have. I first proposed this idea in 2005, shortly after Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) , Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) , and Sony inked deals to make TiVo accessible via the Web and mobile devices.

At the time, I envisioned a Web TV future with TiVo as portal and Google as the backbone:

Google has a massive network. It has an algorithm for searching and organizing anything fast. It has a platform for targeted advertising. It has invested heavily in making broadband available anywhere, including over power lines.

Google still needs a last-mile connection, though it's making progress via set-top box partnerships. Apple TV runs YouTube, and according to TechCrunch, Big G has been testing TV ads in Dish Network's (Nasdaq: DISH  ) boxes since 2007.

A TiVo deal would therefore build on Google's existing experience. It could also be just the Trojan Horse the company needs to win the living room.

Bigger goals
When I say, "the living room," I'm referring to consumers who'd enjoy a more interactive experience. They like the idea of experiencing Web content on their TV. They like streaming. Microsoft (Nasdaq; MSFT) has done a good job catering to them by bringing Netflix's (Nasdaq: NFLX  ) Watch Instantly service to the Xbox 360.

Mr. Softy's problem is that it views the PC -- not the Web -- as the primary platform for data aggregation and delivery. Google doesn't have that legacy. To the contrary; Google is doing everything it can to make cloud computing services more useful.

Consider Google Docs, which researcher Compete says hosted more than 4 million visits in September. Roughly 113 million users cried foul when Gmail failed last month. And Google Analytics is widely considered a standard for measuring Web traffic. 

Yet the Big G is still innovating. Consider Google Voice. Formerly known as Grand Central, the service creates a single number for all of your voice connections, routing calls to wherever you are.

Google Voice also allows users to make free calls to all U.S. destinations. Think of it as a alternative to Skype or Vonage, though in practice, it may more similar to Jajah, a Web telephony rebel that my Motley Fool Rule Breakers teammates and I met in October.

Now, what if you didn't need to connect with a nearby cell tower in order to make your calls? What if your TiVo started the process for you? It could. Build a Wi-Fi router and additional software into the box, and you'd have a server for Webifying every device in your home.

The "why" in WiMAX
We already know that Google is interested in last-mile technologies, thanks to its investments in broadband over power lines and WiMAX. TiVo would be yet another way to get close to consumers.

And isn't that the goal? The closer Google gets, the better its demographic database. Better demographics would improve advertising delivery, the very bread and butter of its business.

To be clear, I'm not suggesting that Google use a TiVo deal as the impetus for transforming YouTube into a Netflix replacement. Instead, I view TiVo as a portal. Big G would need to do whatever it had to -- including striking pennies-on-the-dollar deals with video content librarians such as Hulu and iTunes -- to make that portal useful.

Give the box away, too. Data is more important than hardware revenue. If enough consumers signed a two-year deal that gave Google the right to study viewing, Web, and telephony habits via an in-box version of Google Analytics, just imagine how advertisers would react.

Google says it wants to index the world's information. But it really wants to make the Web the next computing and consuming platform, and fund it with ads. A revamped Google TV could help. Mastering the last mile would help a lot more.

Buy TiVo already, Google. We'll both be happier when you do.

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Tim had stock and options positions in Apple and Google at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. The Motley Fool is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. Its disclosure policy would live on video if it didn't live in text.


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  • Report this Comment On March 30, 2009, at 4:11 PM, DavisFreeberg wrote:

    You raise a number of good points in your article and there would likely be synergies between a Google and TiVo partnership, but I didn't see any negatives to the deal listed in your story.

    The two biggest drawbacks of Google buying TiVo is #1 TiVo's not for sale. They put a poison pill into place about six years ago if my memory serves me right. This means Google would have to step up with a huge offer to get them and w/ TiVo at approx. $700 million right now ($500 mil w/o cash) it'd be hard for Google to offer a significant enough premium to force TiVo into accepting. The second issue that I would worry about (if I was Google) would be the impact that owning TiVo could have on other relationships. If Google owned TiVo, it's possible that the major content studios might balk at licensing Hollywood content on YouTube or spending money on other ad deals. Buying YouTube carried a similar risk, but YouTube has a ton of traffic, whereas TiVo has a much smaller (but paying) customer base.

    To date, Google hasn't done anything on the hardware side of the business. Buying TiVo might be a bit like buying Dell. Sure they could do it, but Google is probably better of staying neutral and then working out deals to get their search engine installed inside of browsers or at the manufactuer level. As soon as Google got skin in the game other computer companies would be reluctant to partner with a competitor. If by buying TiVo, it limits Google's ability to negotiate deals with the other cable and satellite providers, it could be a deal killer.

    None of these challenges are impossible to overcome, but it's at least worth thinking about. A better candidat for a TiVo buyout IMHO, would be Apple or Cisco, although for different reasons then why Google might want them.

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