TiVo + Comcast partnership is long overdue

tivo In the New England area (where I live) Comcast just started rolling out set-top DVRs equipped with TiVo software. It’s sure gonna be hard for me to say goodbye to Comcast’s awesome user interface. Pretty soon, I’ll have to use TiVo’s crappy, stupid interface instead.

Sarcasm! Good riddance, Comcast. Welcome, TiVo .

As a consumer, cable in its current state makes me sad. I can’t plug my TVs straight into the wall anymore because they all require boxes now (here in Boston, at least). The only way to get a box is through Comcast and the cheapest box starts at $7.50 per month, which is approximately $7.00 more than it’s worth, in my opinion. Plus, it makes trying to use an old Series 2 TiVo and a Vista Media Center PC way, way, way more trouble than it needs to be. I would actually pay Comcast, say, $5 a month for the "privilege" of being able to plug my TVs, TiVo, and Media Center PC directly into my cable jacks.

Thankfully TiVo-equipped Comcast boxes are here and I aim to get my grubby mitts on one as soon as humanly possible. Being forced to use the interface on the $15-per-month Motorola 3416 after using the TiVo and Media Center interfaces is painful. TV time is supposed to be enjoyable, not agitating.

Anyway, here’s why this new partnership between Comcast and TiVo is a great thing.

Comcast has 24 million subscribers. TiVo has a little over 4 million subscribers and more than half of them are because of DirecTV. TiVo’s weakness is that, quite simply, it’s nothing without the cable and satellite companies. It’s completely dependent upon them from a programming standpoint. Cable and satellite’s weakness is that, in many areas, they don’t have enough competition to make them put forth the effort to make mind-blowing user interfaces.

Put a TiVo HD and a Comcast DVR box in front of the average consumer and ask him which box is better from a hardware standpoint. Who knows and who cares, right? They both have hard drives and can record two high-def streams at once. Then have this consumer choose between paying $300 plus $13/month for TiVo or simply $15/month for the Comcast box. Comcast is the better deal, from a hardware standpoint.

The point is that the hardware behind the TiVo isn’t really a selling point anymore. TiVo’s all about the software now. You might see this agreement with Comcast as a play by TiVo to get out of the hardware game altogether, which is a smart move for a company that’s hardware isn’t as impressive as it once was.

For consumers, this will hopefully mean that you can still lease a DVR box from Comcast for $15/month except that it’ll have TiVo software running on it, so everyone’s a winner here. TiVo gets in front of more subscribers, you and I get a much better user interface, and Comcast will enjoy an edge over whatever competitors it might have (none in my neighborhood but I’d choose TiVo-enabled cable over anything else).

Deal with cable companies good news for TiVo [San Francisco Chronicle]