TiVo may face legal issues over download plans

TV Arts

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Peeved over TiVo
Biz hardly happy with download plans

TiVo's plan to allow users to download TV shows and films to Apple's
iPod and Sony's PlayStation Portable (PSP) could strain relations with
networks and studios hoping to develop revenue streams from digital

Several TV and studio execs told Daily Variety that they were
considering legal action against the company, whose main product has
huge brand awareness but is increasingly being pushed aside by no-name
DVRs offered by cable and satellite companies.

The pioneer of the digital video recording biz called the move an
"enhancement" of its TiVoToGo service, which allows users to transfer
recorded shows to a PC. The new software, which will be released early
next year, allows users to transfer these files to a portable player.

"We're making it easy for consumers to enjoy the TV shows they want to
watch right from their iPod or PSP," said TiVo CEO and former NBC exec
Tom Rogers.

Reactions to the service ranged from skeptical interest to outright
hostility at the TV networks and film studios as they scrambled to
examine its legal and business implications.

"TiVo appears to be acting unilaterally, disregarding established
rights of content owners to participate in decisions regarding the
distribution and exploitation of their content," an NBC Universal
spokesman said. "This unilateral action creates the risk of legal
conflict instead of contributing to the constructive exploitation of
digital technology that can rapidly provide new and exciting
experiences for the consumer."

But others saw TiVo's move as more a sign of opportunities to come
than a threat.

"In addition to focusing on the legal issues, it's also important to
focus on the fact that consumers are saying this is the kind of thing
they want," noted Kevin Tsujihara, prexy of the Warner Bros. home
entertainment group. "We're excited about the fact that people are
buying portable devices and are looking for video content on them.
It's potentially a huge market for us."

Ironically, controversy comes a week after the Big Six networks
declared that DVRs actually benefit the broadcast biz because they
generate more viewership for the hit shows.

But while such devices were hailed as benign if not beneficial to the
ad-supported television business, the latest feature being added to
TiVo could change the tenor of the relationship.

"I'm sure they will have an opinion, and we will reach out to people
to help them understand our perspective," said TiVo veep of product
marketing Jim Denney.

The immediate impact of the service, which will be offered soon after
the new year, would be to undercut ABC's video-on-demand offering,
through which users can buy episodes of "Lost" and other shows for
$1.99 each to view on PCs or video iPods.

NBC and CBS recently began offering skeins on-demand for 99ยข through
DirecTV and Comcast, respectively.

Nets are planning other on-demand initiatives on the Internet and
through cable and satcasters.

TiVo's service may diminish the appeal of these offers, as well as cut
into the DVD business, which has been supported over the past few
years by the release of TV skeins such as "Sex and the City."

Initially, the additional portability may not affect that status quo
too much, especially because the universe of people who can currently
use the service -- owners of a stand-alone TiVo box who also have a
home-networking system -- is only about 300,000. Company's total sub
base, all of whom could use the service if they invested in home
networking equipment, stands at 1.3 million.

Moreover, just because consumers use TiVo doesn't mean they won't also
buy shows online or on DVD.

"People who are into these types of vehicles tend to dabble in more
than one," said Russ Crupick, an analyst at NPD Group.

By adding the service, TiVo, which has been struggling to find a
growth driver, is hoping to differentiate its box from generic DVRs
offered by cable and satellite providers.

While the additional feature is free, necessary software will cost

(Ben Fritz in Hollywood contributed to this report.)

How is Tvio's new "dump to Ipod or PSP" capability any different than
my VCR's "dump to tape" capability?

It ain't.

People have been recording shows to VCR tapes for nearly 30 years now,
and it has not harmed the TV industry in any way.