TiVo has a special relationship with the International CES. In 1999, the company helped to popularize the reputation of what was then known as the Consumer Electronics Show as a showcase for cutting-edge technology when it introduced visitors to the DVR. The device promised to revolutionize television by divorcing TV viewing from the network-dictated timetable, and empowering people to skip over ads. Now about half of all homes have a DVR, and TiVo CEO Tom Rogers is navigating his company through new changes in technology and business that will even more dramatically change where and how people watch TV. Deadline caught up with him at the Las Vegas confab this week to see what forecasts about the medium are real — and which ones are just hype. Here are his thoughts, edited for length and clarity.
DEADLINE: People at CES always sound enthusiastic about the state of TV. You have a different view.
ROGERS: If you walk out on the floor of the Consumer Electronics Show you’re hit by everything that’s cool about the future of television. The reality is that television is still playing total catch-up and is behind the eight-ball compared to where music is to the consumer. What happened to music is that the industry got crushed. But what came out of that was a consumer model where you can get anything out there and get it in streaming form or downloadable form, to any device in an aggragated form, a la carte, personalized. Really, it’s a wonderful model for the consumer. And television is not there.
DEADLINE: How are you trying to address that?
ROGERS: What we’re trying to do is be the one who comes closest to recreating the music experience for consumers by taking your linear channels, your on demand programming, your streaming, your downloading, your TV Everywhere — put it together in a single comprehensive way that you can get at anything.
DEADLINE: Are you talking about breaking up pay TV’s bundled programming?
ROGERS: Whether the video bundle is broken up is almost secondary to what I’m saying. The fact that the incumbents have been able to hold on to many of the business rules that they have, and haven’t been crushed the way the music industry has, is why the role we’re playing — creating a virtual approach to video that is increasingly equivalent to what music does — is all the more important.
DEADLINE: Sony just announced that it will launch a cloud-based live TV plus VOD service. Is that important?
ROGERS: It’s moving in the direction of what I’m talking about. But it will be interesting to see exactly how and when they’re able to do it. Last year was all about how Intel was going to do something like that. It didn’t happen. I think that doing it around the cable operator, as opposed to with the cable operator, raises an obvious question: If you’re going to be using the cable operators’ broadband pipe — which you essentially have to use in order to do it – there are going to be all kinds of transport pricing issues that are going to substantially inhibit that from being an easily consumer-friendly service.
DEADLINE: Everyone at CES is talking about streaming 4K television. Will it be a winner as a technology?
ROGERS: Do I think consumers will embrace sharper pictures? Sure. High-def has proven it can work. It comes down to transport issues though. To get 4K to be a standard that has enough content behind it you’ve got to have the ability to move 4K content through the pipes on a mass basis. Then you get to the question: If you’re going to do that, would it be compressed? And if it’s going to be compressed, is it going to be compressed in a way that the difference between HD today and the compressed form of 4K is going to be interesting enough for consumers to really drive that? It remains to be seen whether the compressed version is going to be exciting.
DEADLINE: TiVo is talking about storing content in the cloud, and using the Internet to offer a remote DVR service. Won’t you run into the same transport problems for all that data?
ROGERS: We’re not talking about that as 4K. Were talking about that as a way to support a cable operator’s role as a provider of recorded television; it’s somewhat different because you’re doing it in conjunction with the cable operator. They’re trying to reduce the cost of [providing set-top boxes] in the home. And cable operators are focused on the ability cloud delivery gives for ongoing flexibility in innovation and upgrade. That is where we’re trying to show that we can make a difference. The storage function itself is not something that the consumer is going to care about. What consumers care about is, with the DVR capability in the cloud, does it give them a higher degree of personalization of service?
DEADLINE: So many movies and TV shows are becoming available on VOD. Will people even need a DVR?
ROGERS: News and information programming with any immediacy is always going to have a role with a DVR, as will sports. The recording capability will always have a role to give people the kind of convenience and flexibility that they’ve come to like and enjoy. Recording is just another way of creating an on-demand experience so it is there when you want it.
DEADLINE: Where does a broadcast streaming service like Aereo fit in?
ROGERS: Aereo is part of a broader equation. So much of what’s out there is a piece of a cloud solution. Other than TiVo — which has [broadcast TV] tuners in it and DVR capability — Aereo is really the only other way to do that. Aereo doesn’t provide a broader cable solution or a great user experience. It’s interesting but much more limited than the noise it’s gotten.
DEADLINE: Broadcasters say it infringes on their copyrights. Do think it should be legal?
ROGERS: We really haven’t expressed a view on that.
DEADLINE: Have you seen anything at CES this year that surprised or intrigued you?
ROGERS: Nothing has blown me away. I’d be surprised if it weren’t here next year — I kind of thought it would be here this year — was drone TV. Instead of Amazon delivering packages by drone you’ll see people having video cameras doing reality television of all kinds of things that drone cameras give them access to, seeing and capturing things that aren’t readily available through other means. Whether that takes the shape of reality television or spying television, I think it’s going to open up a combination of privacy issues and new forms of television. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are front and center next year. The 4K stuff — there some great screens that have pretty pictures. But in and of itself it’s not earth-shattering to me. I will say that the integration of the home — the broader integration of all your systems into a single, easy access control point — I think will play a bigger and bigger role. It kind of makes entertainment an environmental concern as home management combines a set of things that I think will be appealing to a broad array of customers.