Amazon.com Inc. and TiVo Inc. are trying to bridge the gap between the PC and television.
The two companies plan today to announce an alliance that will enable some TiVo Inc. customers to use their TVs to watch movies and television shows purchased through Amazon's nascent online video store, Unbox.
The service addresses one of the greatest impediments to the growth of Internet video -- viewers can't watch it on their living room TVs.
"There's a ton of content flowing over broadband -- premium content, meaning the best in movies and television shows," TiVo Chief Executive Tom Rogers said. "The issue for many people is it's not TV until it's on the TV."
Starting today, a limited group of TiVo subscribers will be able to rent or buy videos on Unbox and download them directly to a set-top box, then watch them like any other recorded program.
The new Unbox feature will be limited to the 1.5 million subscribers whose Series 2 or Series 3 TiVo boxes can be connected to high-speed Internet service.
Analysts say the partnership is an interesting proof of concept and an opportunity to fine-tune the Internet video-on-demand experience before digital delivery of content to the living room goes mainstream.
"There are lots of people that have PCs," American Technology Research analyst Rob Sanderson said. "But people downloading and buying movies on their PCs, that's a small number. This is a good way to learn a lot about home media distribution."
The alliance with TiVo would give Seattle-based Amazon a jump on Apple Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
The former plans this month to begin selling its Apple TV device for wirelessly sending movies, TV shows and other content stored on the computer to the television. Giant retailer Wal-Mart this week launched its own online video download service.
To date, Internet movie rental and download services have languished because the content has been tied to the computer.
Yankee Group analyst Michael Goodman said fewer than 10% of consumers had expressed interest in using these services.
Internet traffic statistics seem to underscore the consumer antipathy -- only 396,000 Web surfers visited on-demand movie service Movielink in December and even fewer visited its rival CinemaNow Inc., according to ComScore Media Metrix.
But interest in these services rises significantly when users can watch downloaded movies on the TV.
"Interest rises to almost 50%," Goodman said. "That 'locked to your PC' is a huge stumbling block. A tremendous amount of technologies entering the market today, their goal is to bridge the PC-TV divide."
Other online movie subscription services, such as Starz Entertainment's Vongo, have used Microsoft Corp.'s Media Center Extender technology to beam movies, concerts and other programs across a wireless home network to devices connected to the TV -- including Microsoft's Xbox 360 game console.
Amazon's deal with TiVo employs a variation on that approach. Unbox customers who download "The Devil Wears Prada," the latest episode of "24" or one of the thousands of other available movies and TV shows can store copies on their PC, TiVo and two portable devices, said Bill Carr, Amazon's vice president of digital media.
Amazon also automatically stores a copy of all purchased videos in each customer's online media library for future use.
"TiVo is already connected gracefully to the biggest TV in the house," Jupiter Research analyst David Card said. "They're already there. All the Apple TV and Media Center PCs, they have to go that extra step."