In the TV business, the about-face is a reasonably well-known aspect of TiVo’s history. In the early 2000s, its image was associated with the then-startling opportunity to just skip through ads (for many, the DVR will always be known as “the TiVo”). Over the years, though, it’s made an effort to reach out to the advertising community, pitching opportunities to use it as an ad medium that may even offer higher engagement than traditional 30-second spots.
While the pursuit continues, TiVo is spending considerable time on other innovations to take advantage of changing consumer behavior and extend its appeal beyond ad avoidance. It’s launched functionality allowing users to watch live, on-demand and recorded content on tablets in the home, paying heed to the multi-screen world. It’s integrated over-the-top options, so they're viewable on a TV screen. And, it’s worked to bolster its engines to improve search and discovery as content choices expand.
TiVo also ramped up its audience measurement business last year with the acquisition of TRA, now TiVo Research and Analytics. Operating as a separate business unit, growth potential comes as advertisers and agencies hunger for single-source research that looks to link ad exposure with purchase behavior, TRA's core competency.
TiVo continues to ink deals with cable operators to use its functionality, including with Atlantic Broadband recently. It has about 1.7 million subscribers in the U.S. and the same amount globally. Worldwide, in the most recent quarter, its 277,000 additions were the most in seven years.
Armchair quarterbacks enjoy theorizing about cord-cutting behavior. Who knows its impact? But TiVo might assist those looking to drop cable subscriptions. Available at retail in outlets such as Best Buy, a TiVo box can bring DVR functionality to homes using antennas to receive channels free over-the-air. The company has seen demand grow for over-the-counter boxes, accounting for a “meaningful” number of new U.S. subscribers in the past year. The boxes, which need a wireless broadband hook-up, also offer access to over-the-top viewing options such as Netflix.
Speaking of quarterbacks, TiVo signed the magnetic, though bench-warming Tim Tebow as an endorser last year -- partly because TiVo and Tebow sound similar. Tebow has been released by the New York Jets and may not be in the NFL next year, though remains affiliated with TiVo.
Tara Maitra, TiVo’s senior vice president and general manger of content, joined the company in 2005 and has seen it evolve (and go through a lot of IP litigation). She previously worked with CEO Tom Rogers at NBC and Primedia.
She took some time to speak with MediaPost about how 2013 is shaping up and other topics.
An edited transcript follows:
Question: How would you describe TiVo today and where it is heading?
Answer: Where TiVo started, of course, was as a direct-to-consumer offering. Today, we’ve got relationships or deals with nine of the top 20 cable operators. We are a device for consumers that really organizes your whole TV experience, regardless of what that video source is -- one user experience with one remote and one box regardless of who your cable provider is.
If I think about where we’re headed, it is this notion of content on any device. Recently, we’ve introduced TiVo Stream and TiVo Mini. As a TiVo subscriber you can access all of your linear content and your over-the-top content with one user interface. There is one search, one discovery on your television.
And you can have that same experience on your tablet with TiVo Stream. You can move content that you’ve recorded on the DVR to your tablet. You can also stream content in the home live on the tablet.
Where we’re going is from a device you could buy, which you could set up in your home to record TV, to a device that brings you all the content you care about regardless of the source as an integrated solution to the TV and also on your tablet.
Q: How do cable operators feel about your offering options for over-the-top viewing as part of your service because in theory that could prompt a customer to realize there is enough out there to drop a video subscription? (Note: Netflix and Hulu are two services cable operators don't provide via TiVo service.)
A: We’re so used to looking at smartphones and now our tablets that TV was sort of left behind when it came to user interfaces. TiVo brings a much better user experience with an interface that allows consumers to find the content they care about more easily …
When you combine the TiVo user interface with cable-operator service, it really does a great job making all that VOD content more searchable. If I’m searching for any particular title, I’m getting information about when it’s available live, when it’s available on-demand from the cable provider and when it’s available through any of the over-the-top services.
When I think in terms of the cable operator and how they’re reacting to our service, what we’ve found so far is cable operators are happy to have any of the content we’re making available via broadband because it enhances the overall experience.
Q: Do you envision a day that Netflix and Hulu will be accessible via the TiVo functionality provided by cable operators?
A: As rights loosen up, I think there’s going to be a continued advancement. Look where we are today in terms of where we were. Amazon first launched with TiVo in 2007. That was the first deal where you could get all of the Amazon video-on-demand content on the TV. Before that, everyone was just watching basically on computers. We’ll continue to make progress. I would be hard pressed to put a date on it.
Q: Viewing recommendations is something TiVo has been known for. Are you doing anything to fine-tune your engine there because that seems to be something consumers are going to increasingly hunger for with so much content out there?
A: We recently launched “What to Watch Now” integrated in our iPad app. It really helps personalize TV and recommends what’s on now. There are six different categories: what’s most popular, children’s programming, movies, what’s on your favorite channels, sports and stuff you’ve recorded. In terms of recommendations, when you use the TiVo app, you’ll see at that moment what’s on in the next 30 minutes in any of those categories. So, you can immediately connect with something you want to watch. It’s based on viewer trends, region and your preferences.
Q: You have a range of ad inventory that includes pop-ups while a spot is being fast-forwarded through and plenty of opportunities with interactive advertising. When you sell ads is that revenue split with a network or MSO or does TiVo keep all the revenues?
A: We do have arrangements with our cable operators. There’s no financial relationship with a network.
Q: As an executive at TiVo, you receive some credit for finding ways to “counter fast-forwarding behavior.” How are you doing that?
A: I have this theory and maybe I’m crazy: I think that people like advertising, (but) they don’t want to be interrupted. So, when we say countering fast-forwarding behavior, maybe I’m watching a program and I have a limited amount of time and I want to fast-forward through the commercials -- that doesn’t mean that I didn’t care about any of the products being advertised.
So, the way that TiVo positions advertising is: I can (consume) it on my own terms; there are plenty of products that I want to know more about; and I can easily do it through my TiVo device. I might just not have the time or the interest in watching it during a commercial break. There are other ways to reach viewers aside from just the 30-second spot.
Q: What is the benefit to TiVo of the TRA acquisition?
(With) our understanding of audiences through our own data as well as now the acquisition of TRA, we can offer advertisers an even better understanding of what’s happening on TV -- and the Web with our cross-media products.
I can see that a household has been exposed to ads on television and then it turns out they have purchased the products in the store. Also, what network best reached my target audience and what networks are actually doing a better job of reaching my competitors and it kind of just informs their strategy.
Q: TRA recently cut a deal giving it access to some Nielsen data, what is the impact?
A: It improves what the client can do because they have access to all the Nielsen information that they’re also using for they’re media plans. So, as a user I don’t need multiple systems to kind of pull this together. You still have access to the Nielsen data elsewhere, but now it’s all in the same system. It improves the overall ability to compare and understand what you’ve got in your TRA results.
Q: Obviously, TRA’s growth would accelerate if its data somehow became the currency in the national TV market. That’s unlikely, so will it thrive as an advisory product for buyers and sellers inform them how to better buy TV and media?
A: If Nielsen is the currency -- today -- for how TV is bought and sold, TRA is providing a deeper understanding and information to make those media buys smarter. It’s providing precision and accuracy about who you want to target, how to find that right audience. It’s not really about Nielsen and how you negotiate the price. TRA is providing you the knowledge and the expertise to understand how to find those people.
Q: There would seem to be some opportunity for networks to offer advertisers secondary guarantees using TRA data?
A: My understanding is that there have been conversations about secondary guarantees, although we haven’t had a confirmation of one yet, but I know that’s a direction that many networks have talked to TRA about.
Q: What is the future of Tim Tebow as a TiVo endorser if he is not playing in the NFL this fall?
A: We are big believers in Tim Tebow and believe he has represented our brand well.
(A TiVo statement later said: “Regardless of his football status, our relationship extends beyond the football field and we look forward to working with him down the road.”)
Q: Do you use TiVo to skip commercials?
A: I would be lying if I said I didn’t. But I am also the person who says -- and I truly mean this -- that I think a world without advertising would be one with uneducated consumers who didn’t even know what they want … advertisng is a critical piece of our culture.
With so many devices and technology, the industry has to be smart about coming up with ways to present advertising to consumers in a way that it can be more welcomed.