January 9, 2009 / 8:15 PM / 10 years ago

CES: TiVo CEO sees end of legal fight as catalyst

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - TiVo Inc (TIVO.O) Chief Executive Tom Rogers hopes his next day in court will give him the legal leverage to sign new cable and satellite partnerships that can boost subscribers to its digital video recorder service.

New licensing agreements with operators in the U.S. and overseas may become easier to score, once TiVo puts behind a long battle with EchoStar and the Dish Network (DISH.O) satellite TV service.

Dish, which has already paid more than $100 million to TiVo, lost a case that said it infringed on TiVo’s “Time Warp” software, which allows users to record one television program while watching another via a digital video recorder.

“With the patent issue resolved, the perception of our patent increases and it probably behooves us to wait to enter into additional deals with that all behind us,” Rogers told Reuters in an interview at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week.

Rogers said he will be back in court next month, where further damages are at issue over whether EchoStar recorders should have been turned off under the terms of an injunction.

But he suggested the fight could end in a licensing agreement with Dish, the company formerly known as EchoStar Communications Corp. It recently spun off its technology assets, including its set-top box division, to create EchoStar Holding Corp.

“We think we have them against the ropes in terms of where this is going,” Rogers said. “If we ultimately prevail here, it sends a very strong signal to the whole industry.”

TiVo was a pioneer in DVRs, but its growth cooled as cable and satellite operators began offering generic DVRs to their customers for far less than the cost of a TiVo box.

The company has tried to differentiate itself by making the TiVo box a hub for everything from individual users’ home audio and video, to video downloaded from Amazon.com (AMZN.O) or streamed from Netflix (NFLX.O). Customers can also order a Domino’s (DPZ.N) pizza via their TiVo.

Those features are all meant to draw in subscribers who pay monthly subscription fees. But growth has been paltry at TiVo for some time, particularly since the company has reeled in its marketing spending.

In November, TiVo said it added 44,000 gross TiVo-owned subscriptions in the last quarter, compared with 69,000 last year, to end at roughly 1.7 million — about the same as a year ago. “TiVo-owned” users pay a monthly fee directly to the company.

At CES, TiVo unveiled a new search feature for some of its subscribers that enables them to find high-definition video on cable and satellite networks, as well as the multitude of online video sources like Google Inc’s (GOOG.O) YouTube.

“We are taking all forms of broadband content and aggregating those for display on the TV,” he said. “We have gotten to the point where we have about 5 million pieces of content not available on cable or satellite (that is) now available to TiVo subscribers. What we have done is I think move toward “google-izing” television.”

Rogers says that at the show, he’s aiming for more deals with cable and satellite providers from beyond the United States, who recognize that customers want to be able to get more from their TV than what is on the standard channels.

“Broadband television seems to be having a faster relevance (around the world) than it did here, which plays to our strength,” he said. “It used to be that all the (operators) had to do was create a channel guide and the channels, but now their job is so much more complicated.”

Editing by Tim Dobbyn

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