TiVo to make move for the mainstream

TOM PULLAR-STRECKER
Last updated 05:00 31/01/2011
EXPANDING THE MARKET: Hybrid TV chief executive Robbee Minicola at the TiVo launch at TVNZ.
JOHN SELKIRK
EXPANDING THE MARKET: Hybrid TV chief executive Robbee Minicola at the TiVo launch at TVNZ.

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Mainstream consumer electronics stores are expected to start stocking TiVos soon as trans-Tasman franchisee Hybrid Television Services revises its New Zealand sales strategy.

Hybrid Television chief executive Robbee Minicola would not confirm the move but said it would make an announcement about a new strategy next month.

Until now, Telecom has exclusively sold TiVo set-top boxes, mainly through its dealer chain, which is itself being extensively revamped to broaden its focus from mobile phone sales.

Telecom has halved the price of TiVos to $449 since their launch in November 2009, amid speculation of sluggish sales.

Ms Minicola said Hybrid was negotiating with two more internet providers which she was confident would promote TiVo by offering broadband customers unmetered access to its online portal Caspa.

Hybrid Television Services is one-third owned by Television New Zealand, which paid $9.7 million for the stake in 2009.

TVNZ booked a $94,000 profit from its share of the Australian-based firm in December, and Hybrid's New Zealand subsidiary has since reported a small maiden annual profit of $163,000 on revenues of $16.5m.

Ms Minicola said that the New Zealand result – believed to reflect the sale of an initial tranche of TiVo boxes to Telecom – did not give a true picture of the whole of its business here.

"There are only a certain number of transactions that we put through the New Zealand territory for tax reasons."

Victoria University media studies lecturer Peter Thompson said New Zealand represented a small market for personal video recorders.

"The issue is how much room is there for a whole range of different types of incompatible technologies, [and] if they order another 20,000 or 30,000 boxes, are they going to sell them?"

Sky Television, which is now in 47.9 per cent of homes, has "clearly got the lead in the market", he said.

Ms Minicola said she was unconcerned that Telecom was considering joining several smaller internet providers in offering Sky's iSky internet television service to its broadband customers without charging them for downloads. ISky, while officially still being tested, has now been made available to all customers and Sky will start promoting the service on television tomorrow.

Telecom spokeswoman Anna Skerton said a comment by retail head Alan Gourdie at the company's last quarterly financial briefing that Telecom had an ongoing relationship with Sky and there had been discussions around the iSky product still stood.

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Telecom remained a "great supporter" of TiVo, Ms Minicola said.

"We are working closely with Mr Gourdie to work on a plan for this year to get much stronger sales. That is one of the things that is mid-train right now for February."

Hybrid might make a "public statement" if Sky and Maori Television continued to withhold permission for it to include details of their free-to-air programmes on TiVo's electronic programme guide, preventing customers from automatically recording programmes on Prime and Maori TV. Ms Minicola said the EPG issue was "something we are going to have to address this year".

Victoria University law professor Susy Frankel, who chairs the Copyright Tribunal, told The Dominion Post in 2009 that Hybrid might be within its rights to copy Prime's programme titles and broadcasting times into its EPG without Sky's permission.

However, Ms Minicola said it was concerned to do "the right thing", noting it was owned by broadcasters, including TVNZ, with which it would consult.

TVNZ claims copyright over its listings information, charging newspapers and other publications a fee to reproduce them. Any move by TiVo to take Prime's listings without agreement could therefore have knock-on consequences for the state-owned broadcaster.

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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