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TiVo to Expand Portable Features

It is expected to allow users to transfer TV programs to iPods and PlayStations. The service could be available early next year.

November 21, 2005|Julie Tamaki | Times Staff Writer

TiVo Inc. today is expected to announce a service that allows its digital video recorders to save programs to iPods and PlayStation Portables, further untethering television from time and place.

The new offering builds on TiVo's existing TiVo to Go feature, which enables some subscribers to transfer shows to a laptop or PC via a home network. TiVo executives said the company was responding to a proliferation of portable devices.

It's also fighting back against generic digital video recorders offered by cable and satellite companies. Although TiVo is recognized as the brand name for recorders that allow users to pause and rewind live television, most of the devices in use are not made by TiVo.

At the same time, studios and networks are making more of their programming available online, potentially undercutting TiVo's ability to let users accumulate digital libraries of their favorite shows. For instance, ABC hits such as "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost" can be downloaded from Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes Music Stores, and America Online plans to make a catalog of Time Warner Inc. shows available.

Owners of devices compatible with Microsoft Portable Media Center already can download TiVo programming from their computers.

But the ability to transfer shows between a TiVo and Apple's market-leading iPod or Sony Corp.'s popular PSP "may help cement the idea that a TiVo is better than a generic DVR," said Stephen Baker, an analyst with NPD Group. "Their route to success is to differentiate themselves from generic DVRs."

Crucial to TiVo's success, analysts said, will be how easy it is to transfer shows to portable devices.

TiVo subscribers will need to purchase special software to tap the features, said Jim Denney, TiVo's vice president of product marketing. The TiVo box would need to be connected to a home network and the program would first have to be transferred to a PC.

The company plans to test the features before making them available to its 1.3 million stand-alone subscribers as early as the first quarter of next year.

Denney said TiVo subscribers also will be able to automatically arrange for programs to be transferred from a computer to one of the hand-held devices, easing the way for programs recorded the night before to be downloaded to iPods or PSPs. He estimated that it would take about two hours for an hourlong show to make its way from a TiVo set-top box to a PSP or video iPod.

Restricted content includes video-on-demand and pay-per-view, Denney added. TiVo also plans to make files traceable to discourage "people from distributing the content beyond their personal use."

A Sony representative could not be reached for comment. An Apple spokesman declined to comment.

Rob Enderle, a principal analyst with Enderle Group in San Jose, said the new features could make the portable devices more attractive to content-hungry consumers.

"With these devices, content is king," Enderle said. "The more content you can get on them the more valuable they are."

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