TiVo takes on Foxtel and iTunes with on-demand TV, movies

Hybrid TV’s new CASPA service
launched yesterday enables all Australian TiVo users to access
downloadable TV shows and movies via their existing TiVo as well as
music videos artist interviews and concerts through the existing TiVo
interface they are
accustomed to.

Australian TiVo distributor Hybrid TV is at pains to point out that although the service is delivered via TiVo it is not a TiVo (US) service — it is unique to Australian TiVos and provided by Hybrid TV in Australia. Hybrid TV is of course a subsidiary of Channel 7 so it has considerable connections to draw on within the TV and movie industry.

The pre-existing TiVo Blockbuster VOD offering has been kept
in the menu system as a token of appreciation (or possibly contractual obligation) to them for being the
initial partner even though its meagre content will inevitably be
dwarfed by CASPA’s future movie and TV download offering.

It’s great to see that Hybrid TV has thought carefully about the issue of Australian download limits when designing its service: CASPA downloads aren’t an issue for customers of Internode iinet iPrimus and ADAM who have struck deals to unmeter (not count) TiVo content downloads.

Unfortunately if you’ve chosen to be an Optus or Telstra broadband customer
you’ll have to bear in mind that it will be a cold day in hell before they unmeter access to
TiVo since it’s a platform that aims to directly compete for their
cable TV subscription revenue.

We spoke to Hybrid TV CEO Robbee Minicola and were intrigued by a promised
feature to allow TiVo owners the option from April 2010
to view CASPA video content on an advertiser-funded basis. For example if you wanted to watch a TV episode instead of paying $1.95 to rent it you could
choose to watch for free and let Toyota or some other sponsor pay. In return you’d have to watch
several non-skippable ads during the show.

This could prove to be CASPA’s killer feature as most people
won’t want to pay to watch TV show but may be quite happy to let a
sponsor pay instead.

emphasized that free content (eg: the first few episodes of some TV series
a lot of kids content and all music videos/artist interviews) will not
require you to register your credit card.

She continued “Should you ever decide to buy a TV show or
movie that you need to pay for then you log-in to your TiVo account
and complete a one off set up for a CASPA wallet and PIN number. We
will not charge your credit card anything when you do this

When you head back to CASPA on TiVo and do wish to download
and pay for say a movie the service will tell you that your wallet is
empty and you need to top it up you can then pick $10 $20 or $50
denomination to load up your wallet right there on the TV

Conscious that CASPA would be compared to the more established
Apple iTunes shop Minicola was upfront in saying that the amount of
CASPA content would not initially be comparable to iTunes as CASPA had
just started and would continuously be adding new content as content
licensing deals are made.

At launch there will be over 1200 hours of CASPA content
available through the TiVo device and this will continue to grow with a
plan to reach well over 10000+ hours.

If you’re skeptical that CASPA content will be
as in depth as promised you can keep an eye on the TiVo website as the
CASPA catalogue page will automatically update as new content is added.

One reason we think CASPA could mark a key turning point in
the history of how Australians watch video content is because of several things that have happened in combination:

  • There’s now a greater depth of content available via the
    new free to air digital TV multi-channels such as ABC2 ABC3 SBS2 ONE HD GO! and 7TWO.
  • There’s no monthly subscription fee to get TiVo which may prompt many to wonder if monthly Foxtel subscription fees might be better spent on on-demand content
  • Foxtel IQ has a reputation for being an excellent PVR but TiVo is undoubtedly its equal in ease-of-use.
  • TiVo has a scale and presence in the marketplace that Apple is unlikely to equal with its Apple TV device (which despite being an excellent iTunes downloaded content player suffers the perception problem of having limited functionality due to its inability to record TV.) 

$699 for the new TiVo 320 (with an upgraded 320GB hard drive) or $599 for the old 160GB version may sound like a lot until you consider
that Foxtel IQ plans have significant fixed monthly costs require long
term contracts and include a lot of content you never watch (and a lot of endlessly repeated content). TiVo also has monthy repayment plans to remove the barrier of the up-front payment and you can find the TiVo 160 for as little as $450 at some retailers.

comparison video on demand allows people to search for what they specifically want
to watch right now. Additionally many Australians pirate TV shows and
movies because the networks delay showing TV series for months or even
years after they’re initially shown in the US or Europe — though it remains to be seen if Hybrid TV can strike deals with content owners to get TV shows on sale quicker than free to air TV networks can.

Offering a legal alternative to conveniently
watch TV shows and movies via broadband at a similar standard
definition quality level to DIVX via CASPA — especially with advertiser funded options — could greatly reduce the need to download illegal copies via Bittorrent.

CASPA will offer high definition content once true high speed broadband is more commonplace in Australia.

Hybrid TV CEO Robbee Minicola commented during the conversation with APC that VOD needs 1.5mbit broadband at the very least to provide a good user experience and “someone should give broadband companies a slap on the hand for saying 512k is broadband”.

APC will be
watching the CASPA service closely to see if this strategy emulates the
iTunes music sales success story and justifies the significant
investment Kerry Stokes made to own a majority stake in Hybrid TV the
Australia/NZ licensee for TiVo.

Detractors say that TiVo has
failed in the Australian market but while Hybrid TV won’t reveal exact
sales figures they say TiVo was the number 1 selling PVR in the Australian retail market during the 1st half of 2009.

players to keep an eye on are the newly launched PlayTV for PS3 (whose
launch APC coincidentally attended on the same day as Hybrid TV’s
CASPA/TiVo 320 press event) and Telstra’s planned “T Hub” which is a PVR style box that will use Telstra’s 100Mbit/s cable service for downloaded TV and movie content.

A “Holiday Edition” TiVo 320 including free Home Networking
Package (usually $199) will be available exclusively from JB HiFi Harvey Norman Myer and Internode’s online store until 31 January 2010 for RRP$699.