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Who needs a PC? 'Amazon Unbox on TiVo' debuts

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Comment You know that little warning on cars' passenger side mirrors - the one that says things may be closer than they look? Well, when looking at a TiVo announcement, there should be a warning that the installed base of non-DirecTV TiVos, the only ones that TiVo controls, is smaller than you think.

DirecTV was responsible for most of the TiVos ever sold and TiVo does not have access to them for any of the wonderful new services it's launching these days.

TiVo, which with the now seemingly disappeared Replay TV created the DVR business, has launched with Amazon an "Amazon Unbox on TiVo" service. It allows TiVo subscribers to find movies and TV shows that are available on the Amazon Unbox online store, download and watch them on their TV - no PC required.

It's available to 1.7 million or so broadband-ready TiVo subscribers. TiVo and Amazon this week said Sony Pictures and MGM have been added to the list of studios offering content through Amazon Unbox on TiVo. CBS, Fox Entertainment Group, Lionsgate, Paramount Pictures, Universal Studios Home Entertainment and Warner Bros Entertainment were already participating.

To kick things off, TiVo and Amazon are offering $15 in free movie and TV show downloads to anyone who signs up by April 30.

The big advantage of the Amazon Unbox on TiVo is that consumers can watch movies on the TV set where they normally watch movies. The other online video stores download or stream to a PC, which is usually not the consumer's favourite watching place.

Several companies such as Buffalo Technology and Cisco's Linksys have sold boxes - so-called digital media adapters - that promised to send videos wirelessly from a PC to a TV set, even one in another room, but without a great deal of acceptance. The digital media world is waiting anxiously for the Apple TV box, which promises to do the same.

TiVo is the first and only DVR company to offer direct movie downloads to the TV "where subscribers can experience them from the comfort of their living room, on the largest screen in their homes, where the experience of watching movies and TV shows is best", said Tara Maitra, general manager and VP of content services at TiVo. "Simply put, whether it's content you choose from Amazon.com or from broadcast and cable programming, we put it all on your television, in one place, easy to find, whenever you want them."

Movielink has a deal with Akimbo where the two make Movielink flicks available on TV sets via the RCA Akimbo set-top or through AT&T's Homezone pay-TV service. But that, at least at this point in time, is a much smaller universe than TiVo's.

As seems to be the industry standard, TV episodes are $1.99 each. Movie purchases go for between $9.99 and $14.99. Movie rentals start at $1.99.

Amazon Unbox on TiVo downloads the film to the TiVo's hard disk. When the download is complete, the title appears in the TiVo's "Now Playing" list. Purchased videos are also stored in each customer's "Your Media Library" where they can be downloaded again in the future.

Who needs who the most? Amazon may be the biggest kid on the block as an online retailer, but its success with Unbox has been nil. It has to be hoping that the TiVo loving owners will take to the Unbox service. The fact that TiVo gives it an opportunity to play its movies on the TV set instead of the PC is a plus. But the TiVo deal doesn't solve Unbox' incompatibility with iPod.

This coverage first appeared in The Online Reporter from Rider Research.

Copyright © 2007, Faultline

Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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