TiVo Provides the Missing Movie-Download Link; Threatens Cable Cos

At long last, someone has finally addressed the gaping hole in the digital-movie-downloading business.  TiVo’s new deal to let subscribers rent or buy digital movies directly from their TiVo boxes removes an awkward step in the process: customers no longer have to futz with their computers to rent or purchase a movie. Now, they can just pick up the TiVo remote.

Perhaps this will finally light a fire under the cable companies, whose resistance to unforced innovation is infuriating–and whose grasp on the digital rental market continues to slip. Or perhaps it won’t…

Cable giants like Time Warner Cable, Cablevision and Comcast have been trying for years to boost revenue with on-demand movie rentals. But success has been hindered by limited movie selection, short viewing windows, and the inability to for viewers to purchase downloaded movies outright.

Meanwhile, online movie services like Amazon’s Unbox or Apple’s iTunes have required a computer to make the transaction and download the movie file. Getting the movies to play on TV has been even more complicated and expensive, requiring either a complex computer setup or a pricey gadget like Apple TV. TiVo’s deal with Amazon solves some of these problems, allowing subscribers to buy movies without leaving the couch, or rent them for 30 days, often for less money than 24-hour cable rentals.

But don’t short cable yet: TiVo’s impact is limited by its modest presence — only 4.3 million total subscribers, of which only a small percentage have set-top boxes compatible with the new service. Also cheap, no-brand DVRs built into cable boxes have already reduced TiVo’s market share, and now that TiVo has blazed the trail, the cable companies are presumably free to strike similar deals of their own. Because digital-download services require a high-speed Internet connection, moreover, even the TiVo box is not a total loss for the cable companies.

But expect more deals like this in the near future from companies like Apple, Microsoft and Sony, all of which are eager for a place in your living room — at your cable company’s expense.

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