eptember 19, 2019
With its devices, you could easily record TV shows via remote control so you didn’t have to rush to the couch to catch your favorite series — or hope you set your VCR correctly. For a time, its name became synonymous with digital video recording, like Google is with search and Uber for ride-hailing. But others developed similar technology that consumers could simply rent through their cable provider rather than shelling out hundreds of dollars for a TiVo ().
Now TiVo is trying to make a comeback by splitting its company into a patents business and a product business. It’s also launching a new AI-powered content recommendation service and its cheapest device yet.
“I’m excited about the opportunity,” Dave Shull, who took over as CEO in May after Tivo cycled through several other CEOs in a two-year period, told CNN Business. “But we have to execute. We’ve had lots of executive turnover at the CEO level. We have not had a clear story.”
The new service is called TiVo Plus and it launches in October for free to the 22 million households worldwide that still own TiVo products. TiVo will make recommendations to customers on what to watch across the services they subscribe to. It will look similar to the way that the Apple TV app surfaces shows you can watch.
Early next year, the company will release a dongle that costs about $50 — pricey for similar products but far cheaper than its set-top boxes, which can cost upwards of $300. For now, the device is built to run on Google’s Android TV, according to Shull. The dongle can be plugged into the back of a TV and will load up TiVo’s service for broadband customers and also use AI to make recommendations, similar to TiVo Plus, but as a hardware solution. Shull hopes to double his customer base to 50 million households by next year through sales of the dongle.
But it’s a steep climb back to TiVo’s glory days. TiVo’s stock value peaked in 2000, when it was worth over $100 per share, and climbed back to $60 per share in 2011. It’s currently trading under $8 per share.
TiVo Plus will include video on demand services from content provider Xumo, entertainment company Jukin Media and newspaper publisher Gannett. That’s a pretty slim offering to start with more to be announced in October. Shull said TiVo is still in talks to add other services, such as Netflix (), Hulu, Amazon ( ) Prime, NBC, SlingTV, YouTube and TikTok.
During TiVo’s heyday, cable and satellite companies came after its market share. TiVo spent much of the 2000s and 2010s suing major players in the industry, including AT&T (), Verizon ( ), Dish Network satellite owner EchoStar and others for allegedly copying parts of its intellectual property. (AT&T owns CNN’s parent company, WarnerMedia.)
It settled a number of those lawsuits and licensed its technology, bringing in much-needed cash as the TV industry underwent another revolution with the rise of streaming. TiVo also continued to produce its own devices and made a number of acquisitions before being acquired in 2017 by Rovi, a digital entertainment tech company.
The timing, at least, is right for TiVo to attempt a comeback, analysts said.
“The TV viewing market is now a little bit more clear as to how consumers are consuming content. So you could have a better strategy and go to market,” said Hamed Khorsand, an analyst at research firm BWS Financial.
As the money from the lawsuits dries up, TiVo is also splitting into two. The patents portion of the business brought in $295 million in 2018, while product generated $401 million.
“We got two great companies … but they really don’t belong together. They really belong as separate publicly traded entities,” said Shull.
The split is still ongoing but Shull wants to complete it by next year. “It’s a complicated process. From a people point of view, who goes where, who goes to which side? Who doesn’t have a home afterwards?”
Shull is bringing his experience as CEO of The Weather Channel to the split. Under his leadership, The Weather Channel’s data business was sold to IBM in 2015, and last year, its cable network was sold for $300 million to an entrepreneur.
“TiVo is going to have to make substantial changes to engage in this battle,” said Harvard Business School professor David Yoffie, who served on the TiVo board of directors from 2011 to 2016, until he was voted out after he disagreed with the decision to merge with Rovi. “[They have to figure out] how to get the cost down to be able to deliver a price-competitive product that will compete effectively against Roku and Apple TV. That will be a big transition from where they are today.”
Yoffie said the split could help with those goals by allowing the two companies to adopt different operations and investment strategies. “In the long run, I think this is the best opportunity for TiVo to really reemerge as a real company again.”
“We’re betting the future of the company on [this plan],” said Shull. “But listen, if we’re wrong, we’ll adjust.”