After months of speculation, TiVo released its highly anticipated streaming media player, the TiVo Stream 4K, on May 6 of 2020. The device—first announced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January 2020—missed its originally announced April release date.
That TiVo Stream 4K was a few days late probably shouldn’t have been too surprising. In the rapidly maturing OTT device business, which is dominated globally by Roku and Amazon, TiVo’s arrival is conspicuously untimely.
But the Silicon Valley company, pivoting away from the business it pioneered two decades ago, the digital video recorder, and recently merged with Xperi, has big plans for its new product.
TiVo Stream 4k Is Built for the Streaming Wars
According to TiVo’s chief revenue officer, Matt Milne, the company’s greatest challenge in releasing TiVo Stream 4K may have been the coronavirus pandemic and its unprecedented impact. Milne said TiVo product developers were busy working from home with the goal of getting the Android TV-based streaming dongle ready for market, and there’s a possibility that transition may have temporarily resulted in a slowdown.
The TiVo Stream 4K streaming dongle is the company’s offering in an arguably overcrowded OTT device market. The field is clearly dominated by giants such as Roku and Amazon, but TiVo believes it has something to offer to consumers with the new TiVo Stream 4K nonetheless.
“This is a product built for the streaming wars,” Milne said at Future's virtual NYC TV Week conference in 2020. The TiVo 4K Stream was to have access to every major app available in the Google Play Store via Android TV. It would also have voice control via Google Assistant—another standard Android TV accoutrement.
Parent company Xperi is also working with an unnamed smart TV manufacturer to produce TiVo Stream-powered smart TVs. The TVs are expected to launch in 2023.
The TiVo Stream 4K connects to a television via HDMI and is controlled with a remote—a peanut-shaped handheld device that mimics TiVo’s classic DVR remote. The device supports 4K UHD as well as Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos. Plus, Chromecast is built in.
The TiVo Stream 4K was initially priced at $70. For a time it dipped below $30 at some online retailers. Recently it was priced at $39.99 at Target (opens in new tab), at $35.88 at Amazon (opens in new tab) and at $39 at Walmart (opens in new tab).
TiVo was once a leader in the DVR market. Demand for that game-changing device has dwindled in the SVOD age, though, with users consuming more on-demand content. TiVo’s then CEO, Dave Shull, believed TiVo could seamlessly make the transition into the streaming market. TiVo’s edge, according to Shull, is its depth in search and recommendation technology. TV lovers have a Champagne problem, Shull said. They have more choice among more streaming apps than every. But it’s taking viewers, on average, around 11 minutes to find something to watch
“With TiVo Stream 4K, we have created a dramatically better experience for viewers who are tired of hunting through apps and interfaces to find the amazing content available through online content providers,” Shull told investors before the product launched. “We are excited to help TV lovers and occasional viewers alike make the most of their time in front of the screen and bring together the best of the streaming and TV experiences.”
TiVo Stream 4K was a bold move, backed up by an annual $100 million investment in search and recommendation technology. Shull said, “We’re going to bet on the streaming wars. We have a really easy solution to them.” He believed TiVo’s advances in search and discovery would help the TiVo Stream 4K device quickly move up in the competitive market—and, with any luck, make it a worthy contender next to heavy-hitters like Roku.
TiVo paired TiVo Stream 4 with the launch of a free ad-supported VOD service dubbed TiVo Plus.
As a bonus, the TiVo Stream 4K also features TiVo’s own streaming service, TiVo Plus. It allows users to access free movies and TV shows on its 49 streaming channel lineup. Interestingly, in a departure from its roots, the TiVo Stream 4K does not specifically offer a way to record live TV, and is instead leaving that feature up to Sling TV and its Cloud DVR technology
TiVo is also banking on its new corporate spouse, which has inroads into embedding integrated technologies into electronics like smart TVs. This is how Roku and Amazon Fire TV, of course, have become so proliferate.
Certainly, making a dent in the OTT device business won’t be easy. Not only are their powerful incumbents like Roku, Fire TV and Apple TV, Google is developing its own Android TV-based streaming product.
According to Strategy Analytics, which releases market share data on the OTT device business every summer, Roku controlled more than 50% of the U.S. connected TV market last year.
TiVo did have buzz—and perhaps, a little consumer curiosity—on its side.
The TiVo Stream 4K was named a Wall Street Journal “Best of CES” product at launch, and the company came out swinging in an attempt to make it an appealing option in a crowded device marketplace. ■
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