Entertainment technology developer TiVo (TIVO) reported earnings on Wednesday, May 6, but the report wasn't the company's most interesting bit of news that day.
Knee-deep in a proposed merger with technology licensing expert Xperi (XPER), TiVo also chose to release a new product on Wednesday. The TiVo Stream 4K amounts to a strategy change because it proves that TiVo really doesn't want to become a leading vendor of technology solutions. It actually wants to be the next Roku (ROKU 1.22%) instead.
Don't get me wrong -- TiVo has every intention of closing that merger with Xperi. TiVo's shareholders will vote on the merger in the company's annual shareholder meeting, which will be held online near the end of May. The deal is expected to close by the end of the second quarter.
The first-quarter report was also perfectly fine. Revenue rose 1% year over year, and TiVo's adjusted EBITDA profits increased by 55%. The company hunkered down behind a stable portfolio of multiyear licensing deals and cut down its operating expenses by 16%. That's hardly an exciting way to drive bottom-line growth, but it's a respectable way to make a living during the COVID-19 crisis.
Or is it?
Can this media stick change the game for TiVo?
The simultaneous mass-market release of the TiVo Stream 4K media-streaming dongle almost looks designed to turn the market's attention away from the earnings report -- or to take advantage of the larger media platform that comes with a quarterly report to boost the Stream 4K's marketing fortunes right out of the gate.
The device lets consumers watch and listen to thousands of media services including Netflix and Amazon Prime Video (AMZN -0.64%). It comes with a 7-day trial to Dish Networks' Sling TV service, which offers a live-streaming platform for 50+ traditional TV stations. It's based on Alphabet's (GOOG -0.73%) (GOOGL -0.68%) Android technology with a built-in Chromecast feature as well as the Google Assistant voice-control tool.
The device's product page provides a handy table that compares Stream 4K to top-of-the-line devices from the Chromecast, Amazon Fire Stick, and Roku product families. As you'd expect from this promotional tactic, the device matches or beats all of them in every category, apart from the Chromecast Ultra having access to a much larger app library.
What is TiVo trying to do?
The TiVo Stream 4K wants to be all things to every media consumer. The key feature that sets this device apart from a Fire TV Stick or a high-end Chromecast is the ability to search for the content you want in a single search tool that can point you to any available media platform. Roku has a less refined version of the same idea, but this is exactly what TiVo has been cutting its teeth on for the last two decades.
"During the COVID-19 pandemic, viewers are struggling to find their favorite streaming shows. They are overwhelmed by an overflowing sea of streaming apps," TiVo CEO Dave Shull said in the first-quarter earnings call. "TiVo Stream 4K integrates all of that content with the recommendation and search features to make it easier to find, watch, and enjoy the best entertainment, news, and sports from today's most popular services."
If the company can deliver on its promise to simplify the media-streaming experience, Roku and the other hardware suppliers might have a real challenger on their hands. It's no slam-dunk win, of course, since this new device is different from the digital video recorders most of us associate with the TiVo brand, and the marketing push must be made while negotiating the complications of a game-changing merger.
But I'm curious to see what the TiVo Stream 4K can do and whether consumers are ready to adopt it before the coronavirus lock-in policies fade away. If TiVo wants to shift away from the stable but dull business of selling technology licenses under multiyear contracts, Roku's high-octane growth strategy certainly looks like an attractive role model.