TiVo's Rogers: Pay TV Industry Faces 'Digital Cliff'

Las Vegas -- TiVo CEO Tom Rogers likened the looming threat of Internet video distribution to traditional pay TV to the “fiscal cliff,” warning that if operators don’t act now they will face a day of reckoning.

“Television, far from the music or newspaper industries, has avoided falling off the digital cliff so far,” he told me when we met here at CES. But the issue has been “hugely unaddressed by the mainstream television industry.”

Rogers’ view is that context -- not connectivity or content -- will be what keeps consumers paying for television service. It’s not an original vision. But the professorial Rogers articulates it well.

“The essence is, you want to get in front of people the most relevant content that is immediately actionable,” he said.

For pay TV operators, “putting a bunch of channels on Roku is not the answer,” Rogers opined -- a reference to Time Warner Cable’s deal to provide up to 300 live channels through the Internet set-top. In fact, that makes it easier for a customer to drop cable altogether, he argued.

Social media will be a key element in next-generation guides, Rogers said. But he doesn’t mean a Facebook app on TV. Rather, “what your social network, the people who you most care about in the world, thinks is important” will be an important factor for content recommendations.

Asked about Pique, TiVo’s stealth project apparently aimed at letting users aggregate and share content, Rogers described it as an “underlying building block” for future capabilities of the TiVo service rather than a consumer-facing website. The company also recently bought Zinc.tv, an online-video search engine (see TiVo Getting Social in Fit of 'Pique'? and TiVo Searches for an Internet Video Play).

Meanwhile, TiVo now has deals or partnerships with 10 of the top 20 MSOs in the U.S. and a bigger bankroll thanks to patent-litigation settlements with Dish, AT&T and Verizon totaling more than $1 billion through 2018.

The result of that momentum is that TiVo is suddenly being approached about partnerships, strategic investments and companies that want to sell out, according to Rogers: He’s become the pursued, instead of the pursuer. The parties have ranged across the board including TV user experience, content recognition and customization.

“Now we’re on the receiving end of all kinds of pitches,” Rogers said. “It’s a clear change from a couple of years ago.”

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