Losing believers isn't new at TiVo
It also lost yet another believer in our own David Gardner. He recommended the stock to Motley Fool Stock Advisor subscribers during the summer of 2003. After years of watching the company's financial performance fail to live up to its brand-name hype, David dumped the stock off the scorecard three months ago.
"Despite its first-mover advantage, TiVo hasn't captured much of that value," reads the sell report. It's tough to argue otherwise.
I'm holding on to my shares, though I've done my fair share of head-scratching lately. In that regard, I'm not alone. Over the weekend, Janko Roettgers from NewTeeVee.com wrote a piece entitled "How TiVo Can Get Its Groove Back." It's a good one -- with more hits than misses -- so I figured I'd piggyback on his suggestion box with my own thoughts.
1. Open up the box
For users with TiVo boxes linked to their home's Internet connection, the box opens up a world of features. Users can play online games like Wordsmith, check out the latest weather updates through Yahoo!
Roettgers suggests that TiVo expand on its podcast offerings. Despite the "minor technical challenges" TiVo can even help monetize podcasts through ad deals, he suggests.
It's a good idea, but one that already seems to be in the TiVo system. If I don't find the podcast I want, TiVo allows me to enter the URL of the feed. Maybe it can be a little more straightforward, but this appears to be a case of TiVo -- yet again -- not fully communicating everything that it's capable of providing to the end user.
2. Get a better online programming guide
TiVo lets users program their DVRs remotely via the Web. Roettgers laments that the site resembles the vanilla-bland listings of Gemstar's
"Show me what's on HBO, even if I don't have HBO," he writes. "Then let me buy shows a la carte through Amazon Unbox."
OK, so HBO isn't actually carried by Amazon.com's
3. Become the ultimate media hub
One of Roettgers' more daring suggestions calls for TiVo to transform its box into the heart of all home video entertainment. Beyond TV programming and video podcasts, he'd love to see TiVo also stream shows like those appearing on Joost, or on the websites of NBC or ABC. He then argues that TiVo should save those Web streams onto your TiVo, without the inserted commercials.
I can't see that ever happening. Network websites would block TiVo access, and the programmer-friendly TiVo would become the enemy. Sure, there are ways for TiVo to transform its units into home theater cornerstones, but let's hope it does it in a way that is a little more "white hat" than that.
Get on the social Web
TiVo may be selling about a third of all DVR boxes, but it's still the brand that matters. Exploiting that brand should be a natural in cyberspace. "Make widgets," suggests Roettgers. "Get a Facebook app."
I couldn't agree more. TiVo's got a personality. It's willing to flex those pecs occasionally, as in the recent MyTiVoGetsMe.com contest. The resulting portal looks like the seedlings of a social network, without the "social" or "network" parts. However, if you're going to brag about your passionate user base, you may as well engage them in cyberspace as easy bait to hook more users in the future.
Roettgers' last suggestion is a doozy. He argues that TiVo should take the Unbox link one step further, offering day-to-day access to popular content like Showtime's Weeds and Dexter, packaged at a monthly price that eradicates the need to pay costly cable bills. That will probably never happen. I'm guessing that TiVo owners prefer to have hundreds of channels to choose from -- hence the need for a TiVo box in the first place to sort through it all.
It's also the kind of deal that would eat into established TiVo partners like Comcast
It's not too late to save TiVo
"It really seems like there are only two options left for TiVo," argues Roettgers. "Either become an IP shell company that lives off of the patent licensing fees other DVR distributors will likely have to pay to TiVo soon and let your own subscriber base slowly bleed to death, or finally become innovative again, and change the rules that define our collective TV experience one more time."
A company like TiVo could carve a cozy, high-margin life for itself if it were to back out of the costly hardware business. But where's the fun in that? TiVo's patents are juicy now, but what if the future changes, leaving it teetering on the brink of technological obsolescence? No, TiVo is better off focusing on growing its company-owned subscriber base. Some of Roettgers' suggestions may seem wacky, but given that TiVo wants us all to wear superimposed TiVo antennas on our heads, "wacky" is clearly in its vocabulary.
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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz does love his TiVo, and he does own shares in its eponymous maker. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.