TiVo Tries Putting Web Videos on TV

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Riding public interest in Internet video content, TiVo Inc. has cut deals with several program suppliers to allow subscribers to download free Web content ranging from National Basketball Association clips to humorous videos from young-male oriented Heavy.com.

Vice president and general manager of programming Tara Maitra said the “TiVoCast” programming — which also includes content from The New York Times Co., iVillage, action sports network Union On Demand, gay network Here TV and CNET Networks — are the first of several Web video deals TiVo is looking to strike.

TiVoCast debuted last Wednesday. It’s available to 1.7 million TiVo customers that own Series 2 digital video recorders, but TiVo said only about 400,000 of those customers have the DVRs wired to high-speed cable modem or digital subscriber line connections that are required to access the content.

Maitra described the quality of the TiVoCast videos as “comparable” to digital cable or satellite signals. Content suppliers involved with the project will convert their Internet video content to MPEG-2 format before TiVo downloads the content to customer set-tops, Maitra said.

Most of the video clips will run two to three minutes each, while some of the NBA content runs up to 20 minutes.

TiVo and the content suppliers will both gain from advertising sold in the TiVoCast content. Subscribers will be able to use the fast-forward buttons on their remotes to skip ads.

“We’re taking a cooperative, collaborative approach to the advertising. The programmer can sell the advertising within the programming, but we also have interactive elements that TiVo can sell,” Maitra said.

TiVo is talking to major TV networks and Internet video suppliers about adding their content to TiVoCast, but TiVo won’t look to add traditional primetime programming to the Internet downloads because TiVo customers can already use their DVRs to record an entire season of shows such as ABC’s Desperate Housewives, Maitra said.

TiVo has long sought to give customers the ability to download top Hollywood movies directly from studios, and in 2004, it announced an agreement with Netflix Inc. to explore selling movie downloads to TiVo homes.

But Netflix executives said last fall that talks with TiVo had broken off. Maitra didn’t offer an update on the Netflix talks, but said TiVo still has movies on its mind.

“We’re definitely looking at what our strategy and proposition would be with movies on TiVo as well,” Maitra added.

TiVo plans to market the TiVoCast content on its main screen, in addition to plugs on its Web site.

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