The convergence of home theater with digital delivery was both cruel and kind to TiVo in the years leading up to 2012. Licensing its patents generated attractive gobs of high-margin royalties, but a lot of TiVo's functionality has now been replaced by advanced appliances.
From your early-2009 perspective, TiVo stands out from the crowd by offering access to Netflix
It also didn't help TiVo that most of the major networks moved to on-demand programming. Broadcasters still have regular show calendars, but primetime is really a state of mind these days. More and more TV buffs are dictating when primetime starts for them, as long as it's after the original airdate. Yes, that's costly for the networks -- and a boom for content-delivery networks like Akamai
All of these living-room conveniences would seem to doom TiVo -- if necessity hadn't already forced the company to evolve.
TiVo's survival didn't always seem certain. As 2009 got under way, investors assumed that licensing deals through companies like cable provider Comcast
As networks reach out directly to the end users and penny-pinching consumers look to shave superfluous expenses, what do you think the future of premium television subscriptions will look like? With most of the country's population covered by free -- or dirt cheap -- Internet access by 2012, many people are ditching their cable and satellite television plans altogether.
However, TiVo didn't shrink in relevance. It simply learned to multitask. TiVo's ability to overlay affiliate ads -- from pizza delivery to featured product sales -- onto existing programming didn't seem like a big deal in 2008. But by 2010, it fueled an ultimately unsuccessful buyout attempt of TiVo by Google.
The attention boosted TiVo's stature, even if Google went on to develop in-house workarounds to mimic TiVo's ad-serving enhancements.
Back to the future
The moral of the story of the story is simple: Having a pause button doesn't mean you can afford to stand still. TiVo may have faded from the hardware end as technological trends shifted away from standalone DVR boxes, but the TiVo brand, patents, and innovations continue to bear fruit in 2012.
The company wears many hats, but it's mostly a tollbooth collector in 2012. Whenever someone orders a pizza or arranges to have a network send an entire series of its shows at regular intervals, TiVo is there to pocket some change as the result of its earlier brainpower.
TiVo isn't necessarily more relevant in 2012 than it was in 2008, but at least it's alive -- and consistently profitable.
In the end, that's what truly matters, whenever your time-shifting happens to take you.
More tales of the TiVo-lution:
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz doesn't really know how to travel through time, though he would certainly correct some mistakes in the past if he could. He owns shares in TiVo and Netflix. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool's disclosure policy loves that reassuring "plunk" sound.