Switched On: TiVo should be on Google's wish list

Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about the future of technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment:

TiVo logo

In late 2004, a popular and provocative Flash animation of a exhibit from the fictional "Museum of Media History" described a news blog fantasy of 2014. Google, following a merger with Amazon to form Googlezon, defeats The New York Times in a landmark Supreme Court copyright battle, and creates the Evolving Personalized Information Construct, a Microsoft-trumping mashup of its various news, blogging, and storage sites and TiVo.

Yes, TiVo. Don't you remember that Googlezon bought TiVo in 2004? Where have you been for the past two years? Reality? How the Googlezon of 2014 uses TiVo is not made apparent in this fictional history of media, but how the Google of 2006 could use such a company is becoming more clear, particularly since its rival Yahoo purchased the assets of Meedio. Meedio was one of a handful of Windows software companies, along with SageTV and SnapStream, that created software similar to Microsoft Windows' Media Center interface. SnapStream, in fact, was so far out in front of Microsoft that the operating system company showcased the software at the debut of Windows XP as an innovative use of the platform.

This, however, has not discouraged Yahoo, which is now giving away Meedio's software as part of Yahoo! Go, a bid to have the lifestyle Web site's brand, aggregated content, and services available through desktop widgets (following Yahoo!'s purchase of Konfabulator last year), cell phones, and now apparently television.

Nonetheless, while adoption of Media Center has grown significantly as it has become a more popular option on high-end PCs, relatively few of these PCs have tuner cards integrated into them, and fewer still are actively being connected to a television. Meedio, then, at least as it exists today, is a long way from solidifying Yahoo's "third screen." Contrast this with TiVo's customers, virtually all of whom access its services via a real television -- televisions that are increasingly relying on a brain for their content as much as PC monitors.

That makes TiVo, which shares Google's affinity for Linux, a more attractive acquisition candidate for the cash-flush search king, one that would leapfrog Yahoo! when Google seems focused on recreating much of it. Just as Microsoft subsidizes TV schedule content fees for Media Center, Google could do so for "GiVo" and once again offer customers and prospective customers an opportunity to enjoy the service without the now-inescapable subscription fees, thus providing a more differentiated alternative to cable DVR.

In return, Google could employ its knack for non-intrusive advertising to capture millions of more eyeballs, treating recorded shows, actors, directors and the rest of TiVo's metadata playground as targeted keywords. TiVo, which has had only one profitable quarter in its history, would find its white (or blue, red, yellow and green) knight.

Without the sketchy proposition of an integrated Web browser, a Google-powered TiVo would lack the clickthrough immediacy of the Web, but at least part of the purpose of a "three screen" strategy is to stimulate cross-platform services. Selected ads could take the form of short videos or bookmarks that could show up in a PC-based Web feed or cell phone Java application.

The real winners would be TiVo users. First, of course, Google's search technology would instantly improve TiVo's usability. The large library of video that the company is hosting could also be presented in an Akimbo-like interface; existing TiVo hooks in Picasa could be enhanced to enable photos sharing across the Internet to other TiVo devices. Google's Web savvy and communication infrastructure (Google Talk and Gmail) would also likely usher in new functionality, like the ability to tag shows that friends could opt in to record. Hooks to Blogger could make it trivial to comment on last night's episode of Lost (complete perhaps with screen shots).

Google, which seeks to index the world's information, would gain a treasure trove of data and relevance. Post-acquisition, Google could display screen shot links to relevant TV shows or perhaps even commercials in response to a Web search. Clicking their icons on a Google's Web results page would schedule a recording. Of course, Google could also pursue deals with cable and satellite providers, and the company's content and service focus, and freedom from subscription fees, would likely make a Google-owned TiVo a more attractive partner than today's independent company.

TiVo is a CableCard slot away from its best shot at controlling the televisions of its viewers. So, Google, in your search for a television strategy, are you feeling lucky?

Please also see the following stories on TiVo and Google: Google has plans for TV, too?, TiVo to score big deal with either Google or Yahoo?

Ross Rubin is director of industry analysis for consumer technology at market research and analysis firm The NPD Group and a contributing editor for LAPTOP. Views expressed in Switched On are his own. Feedback is welcome at