Virgin Media Puts Its Connected-TV Future in TiVo’s Hands

UK cable operator Virgin Media’s connected-TV future now rests firmly in the hands of TiVo (NSDQ: TIVO), which is re-entering Britain after seven years out.

The pair today unveiled probably the country’s most advanced mass-market TV box – unifying linear and catch-up TV, web video and online apps in a way that Virgin says will future-proof its business.

Virgin Media’s TiVo box, built by Cisco (NSDQ: CSCO), packs a 1Tb disc, three TV tuners for simultaneous TV recording and a 10Mbps modem for VOD and online services.

The software is a step-change for Virgin, allowing it, over time, to ditch its current EPG – a horrible legacy of its ntl forebear that nevertheless manages to sport a leading line-up of catch-up TV. The TiVo offers much better navigation, search, TiVo’s personalised recommendations, keyword-based recordings, an initial roster of internet applications and a promise of a full “app store” to come.

“It’s based on the main TiVo software code tree,” Virgin’s digital entertainment executive director Cindy Rose told paidContent:UK during a product demo (see full interview). “We’ve branched slightly to adapt it to the UK market. The U.S. doesn’t have catch-up, Red Button or a watershed – we had to make certain minmal changes to make it relevant for the UK. We also painted it red and corrected the spelling!

“Other than that, we’ve stayed true to the core TiVo product. That will make it easier for us in future to stay consistent with TiVo’s main-line development roadmap.”

So in step will Virgin be with TiVo, Rose confidently says Virgin will be taking TiVo’s exciting iPad app, multiple user profiles and possibly its QWERTY keyboard remote accessory in 2011.

It is a long-term strategic alliance,” she says. “It certainly isn’t a case of ‘here’s your product, bye’. We are moving ahead in lock-step.

“They’ve also done a deal in Spain and Scandinavia – they are very much looking to Europe to drive some of their future growth. The UK for them is important because it will spur interest in other parts of Europe.”

The addition won’t come cheap for customers – the box price is £199 plus £40 installation. But TiVo, though it’s an external contractor, allows Virgin to make full use of what has now become its core asset – its cable broadband network that goes up to at least 200Mbps.