TiVo Exiting the Hardware Business? Not So Fast, Says TiVo

Rumors of its box's demise may be premature.

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In a story by Roberto Baldwin, Wired is reporting that TiVo — maker of the iconic, industry-creating DVR — has laid off most of its hardware design team and is getting out of the hardware business altogether to focus on services. In fact, the headline on the piece says that it’s “official” that the company is getting out of hardware.

When I asked a TiVo representative about the development, I got a canned quote from Steve Wymer, the company’s VP of PR and Corporate Communications, that’s a longer version of a sound bite in Baldwin’s story:

We continue to balance appropriate levels of staffing and expertise necessary to support our existing hardware business and continue our innovation in hardware platforms and accessories with the need to allocate resources where strategic growth opportunities exist – and there is no doubt that we expect growth in the cloud-based delivery aspects of TiVo’s business.

That’s rather vague — neither an explicit acknowledgement that the company is winding down its box business, nor a clear-cut statement that it isn’t. But then Wymer called me and said “We’re investing a ton into Roamio [the current TiVo line] and are working on new features and services for it…it’s just not right to say we’re exiting the hardware business.” In my book, that counts as a denial that TiVo is ditching hardware.

Which doesn’t mean that the company doesn’t see its future as involving a big transition from hardware to services: When I chatted with TiVo’s CEO, Tom Rogers, at CES, that was a primary conversation point. And it’s certainly possible that the staffing changes reflect a future in which the hardware business is a legacy that’s beginning to wind down, with the company having no plans to release a Roamio II any time soon.

Me, I’m in no hurry to see the company’s boxes go anywhere. Roamio is the best DVR I’ve ever used, and the company also has a fine iOS app, which basically turns an iPad into a TiVo. I still use a TiVo every day to record stuff that isn’t readily available elsewhere, from talking-head news programs to the 1960s Adam West version of Batman.

Which reminds me of another thing I like about TiVo boxes: More than most ways to consume video content, they put consumers — rather than the companies that control programming — in charge. They’re not entirely free of copy-protection issues, but you don’t have to worry about content owners withholding shows or otherwise playing games to protect their initial broadcast airings, as you do with net-based streaming services. Actually, when I talked with Rogers at CES, he told me that cloud-based DVRs appeal to satellite and cable providers in part because they offer the potential for those companies to exert more control over the consumer experience — a prospect that doesn’t sound particularly appealing to me.

Bottom line: I’m not too worried about waking up any time soon and discovering that my TiVo no longer works. But I’m also a realist. And when the day comes that TiVo really does get out of hardware once and for all, I’ll be sad.