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TiVo's Supersize Play for TV Gluttons

10/10/2011 1:24 PM

TiVo has been steadily shedding customers for the past five years.

So what’s it doing to try to win back the TiVo lovers out there? It has cooked up a bigger, even more expensive box for true TV gourmands.

tivoelite_front_wremote_72rgb.jpgTiVo today announced the retail availability of the Premiere Elite — the DVR equivalent of, say, the BK Triple Stacker. The $499.99 Elite DVR packs in four tuners, letting users record up to four programs at once while watching a fifth. It has a 2 Terabyte hard disk, enough for 300 hours of HD content.

Pig out, TiVo-philes!

TiVo was waiting for the FCC to approve its request for a waiver of a rule requiring cable-ready products to include support for analog and over-the-air broadcast tuners; the agency granted TiVo’s waiver request in a Sept. 7 order reasoning that “the waiver is in the public interest because it will reduce the Premiere Elite’s cost and power consumption and provide consumers a new retail set-top box option that will compete with devices leased by cable operators.”

But I’m not sure the Elite — at 500 bucks a pop — will really move the needle for TiVo, or provide an attractive alternative to cable-provided DVRs.

And while ostensibly competitive with service providers’ DVR options, TiVo emphasizes that the Elite requires users to have digital cable service. (Customers also have to pay an additional $19.99 monthly subscription fee to TiVo… more than double Netflix’s streaming-only plan, by the way.)

The Premiere Elite is in response to “demand from our high-end and custom-entertainment consumers,” according to Doug Bieter, VP of retail sales for TiVo.

Which sounds like a not-very-large niche.

As of July 31, TiVo had 1.165 million “TiVo-owned customers” and 763,000 subscribers through pay-TV operator partners (1.928 million total). That’s down from 1.366 million TiVo-owned and 1.018 million pay-TV subs in July 2010 (2.384 million). TiVo peaked in late 2006 with about 4.4 million total customers.

The Premiere Elite is available through tivo.com, authorized home theater installers and Best Buy’s Magnolia stores nationwide.

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Programming Note! Don’t miss the Multichannel News breakfast panel discussion at SCTE Cable-Tec Expo 2011 in Atlanta, Video’s Next Act: Setting the Multiscreen Stage, on Tuesday, Nov. 15, right before the opening general session. Speakers include Time Warner Cable’s Matt Zelesko, Cox’s Steve Necessary and Suddenlink’s Gregg Grigaitis (more to be named). Click here for more info: www.multichannel.com/SCTE2011.

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