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TiVo says it can ape Aereo legally. What might that service look like?

Jared Newman | May 22, 2015
The U.S. Supreme Court delivered a blow to cord cutters last year when it ruled that Aereo was illegal.

TiVo: The company's $50 Roamio OTA box provides a channel guide and DVR for broadcast shows. It plugs into your television and has a built-in hard drive. While the up-front cost is the lowest of any option, it has a $15-per-month subscription fee, and you still can't watch on phones and tablets. You can stream to other TVs via TiVo Mini boxes, but each one costs $150.

You're making a compromise no matter which option you choose. Either the up-front cost is significant, or you're not getting the flexibility to watch on all your devices. This is what Aereo solved so elegantly by stripping away all the overhead and streaming to the devices you already own.

Can TiVo do better?

TiVo is powerless to completely get rid of the clutter. The Supreme Court came down hard on Aereo's method of storing antennas remotely, so unless TiVo has found some new loophole, its legal alternative will at least require you to have an antenna inside (or perhaps outside) your house (and that presupposes that you live within range of broadcast tower). With those assumptions in mind, the question is whether TiVo can do anything else to simplify the concept without higher cost and complexity.

One option would be to take the hard drive out of the equation and offer a cloud-based DVR service instead. This would allow for smaller and cheaper hardware, eliminate the broadcast proximity issue, and it could deliver more flexible subscription pricing (such as cheaper options for users who record fewer shows).

Cloud DVR as a concept has been ruled legal in the past, and was recently adopted by Comcast in its X1 DVR boxes. The Supreme Court tried to avoid ruling on the cloud storage aspects of Aereo in its decision last year, which means TiVo at least has some legal cover in aping this particular aspect of Aereo. 

Beyond cloud DVR, TiVo could still simplify by offering one box that streams video to other networked devices, such as phones, tablets, and laptops. Microsoft's Xbox One already does this with its own TV tuner, so we know it's technically possible. TiVo just needs to shake the idea of using its own extender boxes, and embrace apps for all the major platforms.

And on some level, part of this is just about marketing. I regularly talk to people who don't realize what an over-the-air antenna can do, and how good the picture quality can be--even with the indoor variety. Aereo might have capitalized on that confusion, and TiVo could have a chance to educate former customers and enthusiasts. After all, TiVo did scoop up Aereo's trademarks and customer list at a bankruptcy auction.

Realistically, a legal Aereo won't be better than the original, at least not for the same reasons. But there's still room to make broadcast DVR cheaper, simpler, and easier to access. Hopefully that's what TiVo has figured out.


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