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Showtime to offer TiVo auto-record

Showtime Networks will be the first programmer to officially launch Ipreview, a feature from personal video recorder (PVR) supplier TiVo that inserts interactive icons into on-air promos.

The feature, which will start appearing next month in the form of a small "thumbs-up" icon in the corner of the TV screen, will allow TiVo users to automatically schedule recording of a Showtime program with a click of their remote.

"We've now taken passive promos and turned them into much more," says Stacy Jolna, TiVo's chief programming officer and vice president of advertising and media partnerships.

Although NBC has also experimented with Ipreview, Showtime will be the first network to use the feature on a 24/7 basis in all its on-air promos, he notes. TiVo plans to roll out the feature with multiple networks this year. Both NBC and Showtime are investors in the San Jose, Calif.-based company.

In addition to allowing a Showtime viewer to watch a live promo and automatically schedule recording of the show being touted, Ipreview will also work in recorded material, says Jolna. For example, if TiVo viewers record a Showtime movie on Monday, and, while watching it on Tuesday, see a promo for a future program such as a movie on Saturday night, they can still use the Ipreview icon to schedule its recording.

"The data tag is attached to the program, and it will seek out the program the next time it airs," he explains.

Showtime will insert Ipreview triggers into all its promos using the VBI (vertical blanking interval) of the television signal, but only TiVo users will see the icon.

"It's a very clever piece of technology that knows you have a TiVo box and knows you have Showtime," says Gene Falk, senior vice president of Showtime's Digital Media Group. "...I was very impressed by it."

The functionality of Ipreview is an example of why Showtime is a "big believer" in PVRs, says Falk. "It's a way for us to offer additional value to the people who are paying good money to watch the programming every month." He expects TiVo competitor Replay Networks, which Showtime has also invested in, to offer a similar capability.

Sony has announced that its version of the TiVo recorder is now available. The Sony Digital Network Recorder (SVR-2000), which was previewed at the CES show in Las Vegas in January, will offer 30 hours of storage and sell for $399.

A monthly subscription fee to the TiVo service, which also requires a phone line, is $9.95. A lifetime subscription can be purchased for $199. Philips also makes a TiVo recorder.