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TiVo's Apple juice
Shares of TiVo shot up on news that it will allow recorded shows to be transferred to the iPod.
November 21, 2005: 1:47 PM EST
By Paul R. La Monica, senior writer
Rally on pause: Shares of TiVo have been extremely volatile during the past year.
Rally on pause: Shares of TiVo have been extremely volatile during the past year.

NEW YORK ( TiVo meet iPod. It sounds like a marriage made in techie heaven.

Take TV shows that you've recorded on your TiVo and transfer them to Apple's super-hip player. Or, if you're more of a gaming freak, you can watch your favorite programs on your Sony PlayStation Portable instead.

TiVo announced on Monday that it will begin testing a service that allows users of its stand-alone digital video recorder to download video content to Apple's and Sony's portable devices.

The news will certainly have early-adopter gadget geeks salivating. But investors also liked the news -- TiVo (Research) shares were up more than 4 percent Monday morning.

This is the latest effort by TiVo to stay competitive in what is becoming an increasingly challenging marketplace. Two weeks ago, TiVo inked a deal that will allow TiVo owners to program their recorders at Yahoo's (Research) site.

Brutal competition

These announcements may be interesting...but analysts still worry about a long list of threats to TiVo.

Cable TV and satellite firms have their own digital TV offerings.

Apple (Research) has forged an agreement with Walt Disney's ABC TV network to make downloads of some of ABC's shows available for purchase on Apple's iTunes site.

NBC and CBS have also recently said that they will begin offering video-on-demand services -- all products that could make offerings from TiVo less attractive.

In addition, Scientific Atlanta (Research), one of the largest makers of set-top boxes with DVR technology built-in, is being acquired by Cisco Systems (Research), one of the world's biggest technology companies.

"A lot of people are competing for the mobile video marketplace and other companies have more robust research and development budgets [than TiVo]," said April Horace, an analyst with Hoefer & Arnett.

In addition to Cisco/Scientific Atlanta, Horace said TiVo is likely to face tough competition from Motorola (Research) and satellite TV firms EchoStar (Research) and DirecTV (Research), a current TiVo partner that its alliance to TiVo rival NDS Group (Research).

The analyst added that Pace Micro Technology, a U.K. based maker of set-top boxes that already has developed a device that acts as both a DVR and a portable device for viewing video content, will also be a formidable rival.

With Pace's PVR2GO, Horace said a consumer simply can unplug the device and watch shows that have been recorded on it on the built-in screen. In other words, there is no need to transfer files.

To that end, other analysts pointed out that the TiVo mobile announcement, while interesting, may not appeal to the mass market just yet because the process of downloading a TV show to the iPod or PSP is tedious to say the least.

Want to transfer last night's episode of "Desperate Housewives" to your iPod -- it will take you longer to do so than to actually watch it, explains Michael Kelman, an analyst with Susquehanna Financial Group.

"You have to pre-plan," said Kelman. "You're not just going to be able to zap a show to an iPod."

With that in mind, Kelman doesn't think that TiVo's new offering will lead to big increases in subscribers.

A profitable niche?

Despite these risks, some analysts said TiVo is in a good position. It doesn't need to be the market leader to do well, they say.

Its "TiVotoGo" service for the iPod and PSP could make TiVo the must-have DVR product for early-adopters -- and those customers tend to pay up for gadgets.

"TiVo has positioned themselves as the Burger King of video content. Have content your way," said Daniel Ernst, an analyst with Hudson Research Soleil, an independent research firm. The key to the company's success, he said, will be to focus on the higher-end consumer in order to reach profitability.

But will such a focus be enough to lead TiVo into the black? The company eked out a slight profit in its second quarter but is expected to report a loss of 25 cents a share for its third quarter when it releases results on Nov. 29.

Frederick Moran, an analyst with Stanford Group, thinks the company will report a lower-than-expected loss thanks to strong subscriber gains heading into the holiday-shopping season.

Still, analysts are expecting losses for fiscal 2006 and fiscal 2007.

So despite the recent announcements, some wonder if TiVo is simply just too small a fish in the digital-video market. A recent report from market intelligence firm Brandimensions suggests that TiVo's brand name is losing some of its strength,

While the overwhelming majority of consumers used to think of TiVo as synonymous with the DVR industry, more and more identify with the generic use of DVRs.

"The market is going to be flooded with ways to watch TV shows when you want and consumers are available and open-minded for other options," said Michael Coristine, a product manager with Brandimensions.

And when all is said and done, TiVo will probably remain a highly risky stock until it can prove to investors that it can consistently be profitable.

Hoefer & Arnett's Horace said she's not sure that the iPod and PSP announcement changes the landscape that much for TiVo. "The portable market is very sexy but I'm not sure how it will be ultimately accretive to TiVo's bottom line," she said.

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Analysts quoted in this story do not own shares of TiVo and their firms have no investment banking ties with the company.  Top of page

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