TiVo and Amazon on Wednesday unveiled a new service that will let customers download movies and TV shows for direct viewing on their television screens. The partnership aims to outdo rival services that only allow customers to download and view the programs on their computers.
Dubbed Amazon Unbox on TiVo, the soon-to-be-launched service will offer customers access to thousands of programs from networks such as CBS, Fox, Paramount Pictures, Universal Studios, and Warner Bros. The service is currently in beta testing on broadband-ready TiVo boxes. The companies have not yet disclosed an official launch date.
"The television is and will continue to be the preferred platform for watching video content," Tara Maitra, TiVo's vice president and general manager of programming, said in a statement. Maitra said the Amazon partnership expands the TiVoCast service to include movies, television shows, and other premium content.
Although digital movie downloads are available through online venues such as CinemaNow, MovieLink, and Walmart.com, customers have to purchase additional equipment, such as a graphics card with TV-out capabilities, to display the downloads on a TV screen.
With Amazon Unbox on TiVo, subscribers log on to Amazon.com and follow a few steps to establish a link between their broadband-connected TiVo box and their Amazon account. Customers can then download movies or television shows directly to their TiVo box. After the movie has been downloaded, the title will automatically appear in the TiVo's "Now Playing" list with other recorded shows.
Amazon Unbox on TiVo is the first service that allows customers to download broadband video to be integrated with programming recorded from TV, according to Phil Leigh, a senior analyst with Inside Digital Media. He said digital downloaders are hungry for this type of service.
"Clearly, people want to watch their movies on their television, not on their computer. This fits with Amazon's principle that if you are going to offer something new, it needs to be something significant and it needs to offer a good customer experience," Leigh said.
Straight to the TV
Only about 600,000 TiVo subscribers have their DVR connected to a broadband home network. And more than 60 percent of TiVo subscribers receive the service through DirecTV, which means they won't be able to benefit from the Amazon partnership.
For those who don't have a TiVo-brand DVR, Leigh said he doesn't anticipate cable operators that offer DVRs will partner with Amazon. "Cable operators would welcome sharing revenue with Amazon.com about as much as they would welcome an IRS agent coming to their front door," he quipped. "Amazon is limited to working with TiVo and other independents and there are no other significant independents."
When the service launches, customers will be able to purchase TV episodes for $1.99, and most movies will cost between $9.99 and $14.99. Customers also will be able to rent movies at prices starting at $1.99. All purchased videos will be automatically stored in each customer's "Your Media Library" at Amazon.com for future access and download.
What the companies didn't reveal is how long it takes a digital file to download. That, Leigh said, could be one of the devils in the details. "It's one thing if the movie downloads quickly and I can watch it within 15 minutes," he explained. "But If I have to wait two hours for it to download, then that's going to impact the demand for the service."