TiVo’s new President looking to partner

May 5, 2003  •  Post A Comment

TiVo has often been regarded by programmers, advertisers and others in the television business as a poison pill.
Marty Yudkovitz’s job is to be the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down and in so doing radically broaden the direction of the leading PVR brand to embrace partnerships with programmers and advertisers and the cable and satellite business. The mission won’t be easy.
Mr. Yudkovitz joins TiVo this week as president after a 19-year career at NBC, where he most recently served as an executive VP and as president of NBC Digital Media, which holds a 5 percent stake in TiVo. He replaces Morgan Guenther, who resigned in January.
TiVo has become part of the cultural consciousness, but the company counts a mere 624,000 customers. That’s not bad when you sell one box at a time, Mr. Yudkovitz said, but the marketing model for the company is about to undergo a dramatic shift.
“We want to bust through the wall with cable,” he said. TiVo doesn’t have any cable distribution currently.
“I will camp out in Atlanta [Cox headquarters], Philadelphia [Comcast headquarters] or Bethpage, N.Y. [Cablevision headquarters] with my sleeping bag until I see them,” he said.
What he will offer the cable operator is a customized solution built into the fabric of the set-top box and a slice of revenue from TiVo-enabled ads.
To do that Mr. Yudkovitz plans to make friends with advertisers and position TiVo as a platform for targeted ads and in-depth commercials, offering viewers the chance to see the full car specs or watch the entire movie trailer, he said. About 50 percent to 75 percent of TiVo users engage in more in-depth advertising when TiVo offers such “showcases,” as it did for last summer’s Austin Powers In Goldmember, which allowed users to access more information on the movie.
Mr. Yudkovitz wants programmers to know TiVo isn’t here to wreak havoc with schedules and lead-ins but to act as a portal for TV watching, Mr. Yudkovitz said. When a user comes home and turns on TiVo that moment is critical for a network to reach a consumer. “Here’s a chance to go in-depth on the guide pages and say, `Hey, do you want to see a preview of next week’s Will & Grace?”’
TiVo expects to have more than 1 million customers by Jan. 31, 2004, the end of its fiscal year.
The new direction is needed, but TiVo faces an uphill battle, said interactive TV analyst Robert Aksman with BrightLine Partners. ReplayTV pursued a similar strategy of positioning itself as a service provider and failed. Also, penetrating the entrenched set-top box duopoly of Motorola and Scientific-Atlanta will be tough, he said. “Is the brand equity great enough that [TiVo] can convince cable operators that it will increase digital deployment and reduce churn?” he asked.
TiVo’s best bet is to forge relationships with consumer electronics makers for the PVR functionality to be built into a TV or a DVD and to focus on growing the satellite business, said Adi Kishore, analyst with the Yankee Group.