Adapt or die: how TiVo is keeping pace in the age of streaming

TiVo isn't the one-trick pony you may think it is

People still love TiVo. Subscriptions are up 30% year-over-year which, according a recent company results report, led to the company making more than $7 million in gross profit in the last three months.

So what keeps the digital video recording (DVR) company thriving amidst increasing dependence on streaming video and the cable cutter movement?

Its ability to adapt, and doing so without alienating the people who bought into TiVo all those years ago.

If you're still skeptical, I understand. I was too before I met with Jim Denney, vice president of product marketing at TiVo.

TiVo

In the course of an hour meeting at TiVo's headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif., we talked at length about the changing state of home entertainment. We also chatted about how content is converging thanks to services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, as well as the consumer's desire to have every show at their fingertips through intelligent search functionality.

Finally, we discussed the competition - Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, and integrated DVR technology right in your cable box.

Nothing dissuaded Denney. TiVo isn't competing with anyone else, he said. TiVo's here to improve your viewing experience, whether that's with a cable provider or an over-the-air antenna, by making it easy to watch what you want to watch, when you want to watch it.

And that's what leads me back to my original point: Just why do people - thrifty cord cutters especially - love TiVo so much? Denney broke down four ways TiVo has adapted to the cord-cutting age:

It integrates every service you own in one place

TiVo, despite what the advertisement on its home screen might lead you to believe, is actually a pretty agnostic system.

You're encouraged to connect the services you already pay for (Amazon Prime Instant Video, Netflix and Hulu) with cable or OTA programming for the ultimate repository of cool shows and movies. Once you've got all the account info loaded into the box, searches come back with a robust amount of content rather than an episode here or there.

TiVo Netflix

By combining services, TiVo can draw upon more resources when it comes time to recommend new content and help you track down the shows you want to watch.

"I don't see us competing with Netflix or Amazon [for consumers], I see us working with them to incorporate that into a broader experience," Denney said. "If you're looking for Netflix, get Netflix. But if you're looking for a service that combines Netflix with the best of live TV, you should get TiVo."

OnePass is the ultimate tool for binge-watchers

TiVo, through the magic of technology and one heck of a database system, compiles every possible location for a show, whether it's on live TV or streaming on your favorite service, and combines every episode into a single list. This feature, unique to TiVo, is called OnePass.

Selecting a show as one of your favorites will tell TiVo to start recording it, but instead of haphazardly collecting every instance of the show, you're able to specify which seasons you're looking for.

Say, for instance, you like The Simpsons. You've watched everything up to the fifth season, but have only seen a few episodes from every other season up until now. OnePass would be smart enough to only record episodes from the sixth season on, while simultaneously pointing you to Hulu for the most recent shows.

"One of the best offerings for cord cutters around is getting a TiVo OTA, as it will record all of the live content and come with tools like OnePass, alongside subscribing to streaming services like Amazon or Vudu," Denney said.

TiVo believes that by subscribing to its service for $14/month for features like OnePass and live recording, tacking on an extra $8 for Netflix and using an antenna for OTA content, users are getting the most content for the least amount of money.

"The key is that it's all incorporated in a very easy to use way," he said. "There are other systems that do this, right? But they're not designed to be as easy or as comprehensive in what they include."

You can set up recording from anywhere

Although it can seem slightly anachronistic at times, TiVo has focused a lot of its attention in the last few years on improving its mobile experience for the thousands of cord cutters that use it.

The TiVo app, available on both most Android devices and iPhones and iPads running iOS 7.0 or later, allows you not only to pull up a channel guide while your primary screen is occupied, but also lets you select which shows you'd like to record using the same intuitive control scheme and feature set as the main box, whether you're at home or using an outside network.

TiVo iPad

You can download videos to your mobile device

But the mobile app is about more than just finding content or remotely scheduling TiVo to record tonight's episode of The Wire. TiVo lets you actually store full shows on your mobile device for offline viewing and, by transcoding the video stream, allows you to stream directly to a mobile device.

In practice this can mean downloading a full season of your favorite sitcom before getting on a plane, or keeping a copy of your kid's go-to TV series on your iPad to entertain them on a long car ride, or when you're at home giving you a second screen when disputes arise on what to watch.

Just how popular are these functions? Denney told me that in February, over half the boxes that are capable of transcoding and streaming used that functionality. "So a lot of people are using the out of home recording and in-home transcoding abilities of the device."

TiVo units start at $49 with the TiVo Roamio OTA, and require a monthly service fee of $15 a month.