Mr. Rogers has new neighborhood, but can Primedia exec recast TiVo?

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Tom Rogers' resume reads like a hit parade for adrenline-junkie executives. Capitol Hill, NBC, Primedia, and now TiVo, have all been organizations in tremendous transition when Mr. Rogers took over.

On Capitol Hill, he served as counsel to the House's telecommunication committee in the Wild West days before the Telecom Act was passed. At NBC, he oversaw the launch of CNBC and later MSNBC. While at Primedia, he helped move the old media company into the Internet age, some would say belatedly, with the acquisition of About.com. Now at TiVo, he has already brokered a first-ever cable deal with Comcast to resell TiVo's digital video recorder services.

"I've come to recognize most of my involvements have had a lot of risk and challenge. Those are the things that turn me on," Mr. Rogers said , just after being appointed president-CEO of TiVo.

His enthusiastic slang lapse is unusual for a man who normally weighs most, if not all, of his words. Not unusual though, is the industry reaction to his appointment. Response ranged from "if anyone can do it, Tom Rogers can" to the much less optimistic "I hope he is a better cable/TV executive than he was a publishing executive."

ABOUT.COM

One big burr in Mr. Rogers curriculum vitae is Primedia. Some say his acquisition of About.com almost sunk Primedia; others say he was simply following orders from above and those directives are what ultimately sped his departure.

"He was encouraged by KKR to revive the company by getting into the dot-com world. So he bought About.com," said Mark Edmiston, a partner at AdMedia Partners. "And then the world changed and it was hard to support that acquisition. It's hard to blame Tom because that's what he was hired to do."

TiVo's biggest problem right now is getting more subscribers, and new cable and satellite competition is hindering that effort. For many years, since co-founder Mike Ramsay (who served as chairman-CEO until Mr. Rogers' appointment) and Jim Barton created the TiVo box and service in 1997, they've pretty much had the market all to themselves. Few people fully appreciated the value of a digital video recorder, although those who did-mostly the media and technorati-swore they couldn't live without their TiVo. That was good for the brand, but didn't manage to spur mass market adoption.

TiVo currently has about 3.3 million users, but it's still a small market where only about 10 million households own any kind of DVR. The deal that Mr. Rogers brokered with Comcast should help bring TiVo's numbers up. And TiVo will still sell boxes and subscriptions to its service on its own, as well as through its deal with DirecTV. Mr. Rogers said his first challenge is to broaden the subscriber base, and although he wouldn't offer details, he did say he'll be examining "the tactics we use to market and sell the product, particularly standalone."

"The real litmus test for TiVo will be landing another operator," said Eric Schmitt an analyst with Forrester Research. "It will be interesting to see whether TiVo continues to define itself as a consumer device company or whether they start to define their business more as an advertising systems vendor."

TiVo has experimented in the DVR arena of fast-forwarded and skipped commercials for years using techniques like long-form ads, banners and static logos. The cable companies would likely be interested in tapping TiVo's knowledge. In fact, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts specifically mentioned TiVo's ad capabilities as an attractive component to their deal.

Mr. Rogers said, "People with DVRs are skipping through 75% of ads. That's a massive change for marketers and advertisers in figuring out how to re-express those dollars. TiVo is in a unique position to help marketers think that through."

Acting in a CEO role during the search probably gave Mr. Rogers extra insight into a company of which he had been a board member since 2003. Some say, in fact, he may have gotten the job partly by default and with a bit of persuasion. His deal with TiVo will pay him $750,000 per year, plus up to $500,000 as bonus for hitting certain targets, and he will be able to continue to live and work in New York, while maintaining a TiVo-funded apartment in Alviso, Calif.

And an eat-my-words assessment from analyst Philip Swann of tvpredictions.com: "Tom Rogers is good news for TiVo. Right now they're doing everything right and I never thought I would say that."

Just Asking

What shows do you TiVo? Most things I watch on TV with the exception of CNBC. I make special use of it Sunday morning so I can get through 3 hours of news shows in about an hour & 15 minutes

Does your whole family TiVo, or just you? We are all TiVo addicts. The kids barely remember TV before TiVo.

What's your favorite TiVo feature? The season pass-it's what makes TiVo "product for all seasons."

Does it bother you that TiVo is often used as a generic verb? TiVo is a cultural phenomenon-it comes with the territory.

What's your favorite electronics gadget right now, other than TiVo? The only thing that has me hooked like my TiVo is my Blackberry. I'm equally addicted.

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