New Partnerships Hailed as Smart, but Subscriptions Still a Challenge

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- TiVo is pitching itself as advertisers’ savior. But the push may come too late to save itself.

TiVo CEO Tom Rogers
Even as newswires buzzed with speculation that the time-shifter was a takeover target, TiVo CEO Tom Rogers assembled a crowd of marketers and media agency executives in New York last week to tout the digital-video-recording pioneer as a platform that delivers consumer engagement.

E-commerce platforms
In an effort to position TiVo as a link between passive viewing and interactivity, the company talked up a recent raft of partnerships that will enable its subscribers to buy movie tickets from Fandango; listen to Internet radio stations and talk shows; view on their TVs photos that have been posted online at Yahoo Photos; and search for particular ads. Building off the e-commerce platform that is fueling the Fandango deal, TiVo said it’s trying to take its direct-response capabilities further, allow consumers to purchase other products from the comfort of their couch.

TiVo also announced at the meeting a partnership with Tad Low, the Emmy award-winning creator of Pop-Up Videos, whose production company Spin the Bottle is pitching prospective advertisers on content concepts he has created for development on TiVo.

Coca-Cola Co. Chief Marketing Officer Chuck Fruit -- also a TiVo board member -- was intrigued by Mr. Low’s presentation, saying, “I think of Tad as being the creative department of the future. Being in the entertainment and engagement business -- particularly for products like ours where consumers don’t really care about product specifics like how many bubbles a can has -- we grow our brands through affinity and relationships.”

'Death throes'
But others believe TiVo’s efforts, though smart, are too little, too late. “These are the death throes,” said Alex Tamayo, VP at Media Contacts, the interactive buying unit of Havas’ MPG. He noted that while TiVo has put a brand name on time-shifting, it’s struggling to gain subscribers and is being outpaced by cable operators who are aggressively rolling out their own DVRs.

In fact, TiVo’s new developments came the same week that the 8-year-old company reported, as part of its third-quarter results, that it had added during the period 55,000 net new stand-alone subscriptions -- subscriptions independent of an agreement with a multichannel video provider such as DirecTV. The total was substantially lower than the 103,000 new subscriptions in the year-ago quarter.

TiVo’s also still reeling from a blow earlier this year when DirecTV began marketing its own branded interactive DVR, leaving the future of DirecTV’s relationship with TiVo unclear.

Counting on Comcast
Over the summer TiVo did strike a deal with Comcast that will offer the cable company’s 21.5 million subscribers the option of using TiVo’s name-brand DVR service. TiVo’s ability to leverage that agreement into similar ones with other cable operators, vastly expanding its distribution, is the key to the company’s longevity.

“TiVo’s future hinges on the Comcast deal,” said Van Baker, VP-research at Gartner, a San Jose, Calif.-based research group. “If in four years from now one-third of the Comcast-installed base is TiVo-enabled PVRs, that’ll be enough to get an advertiser’s attention.”

Coleen Kuehn, exec VP-strategic development at Havas’ MPG, said she likes TiVo’s initiatives, but is discouraged by the company’s low reach. She added that advertisers and their agencies now have multiple options to choose from as they experiment with new media forms.

“With TiVo’s limited reach," Ms. Kuehn said, "the benefits [of recommending that a client get involved in TiVo’s initiatives] are outweighed by the costs.”

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