Well I was not expecting this one: I head into a conversation with the CEO of TiVo, fully expecting him to look at me cross-eyed when I suggest that TiVo might be understood to be a search-driven application. Instead, he wholeheartedly agrees. In fact, Ramsay was adamant about the role search plays, and how much innovation can come from understanding video through the lens of the internet.
As usual I must save stuff for my book (and column), but here’s one of the coolest things he mentioned: the idea of folks building video content websites that TiVo could search and download – using exactly the same search interface TiVo already has. Ramsay pointed out that with television search, you often don’t know what you want till you see it (“I feel like a foreign film tonight – hey…there’s an old Seinfeld episode on!”), but on the net, you often you know what you want, but not where it is (“I’m looking for a 1965 Ford Mustang in perfect condition”). What would happen if the two merged?
Ramsay gave an example of a typical TiVo wishlist (an ongoing set of instructions you give your TiVo) that includes, say, anything from Martin Scorcese. As it stands today, TiVo offers up all the films he’s directed which happen to be showing in the next few days, and possibly documentaries featuring the director. But that’s it. What if there were a great Scorcese interview available on a fan website, and that website was built to work with a hypothetical TiVo search API? TiVo would present that piece of content as an option as well, and you could simply “record” it, just like you do any other show. TiVo would then send a request over the net to the site, and download the content for viewing (TiVo might employ “drizzle” like technology to download the massive files overnight). Imagine the possibilities, both for non-commercial content as well as for advertising. It makes my head spin. I am sure the cable companies (and networks) simply loathe the idea – it takes distribution completely out of their hands. One can imagine any number of scenarios: a “hit” show that lives solely on a website, for one. Advertising-only websites providing paid search-like content for which TiVo becomes a market maker. Crippled Comcast PVRs which refuse to cross-pollinate with the net (I am sure Mike would love this, as it would provide a major differentiator for TiVo, were they to implement this kind of feature).
What this heralds is the long-promised melding of broadband and broadcast. I asked Ramsay about TiVo’s recent acquisition of Strangeberry, and he was not very forthcoming, but he did say “they are doing some cool stuff in this space.”
Our conversation ranged across many subjects, from business models to collaborative filtering to his relationship with Hollywood and the IP cabal (“improving”). I’ll be writing up the whole conversation for my column in Business 2.0, so stay tuned for that.