As TiVo Tumbles, Roku Roars

What to make of the sharply diverging fortunes of two of the video industry’s most recognizable brands?

TiVo—which literally revolutionized the way consumers watch television—is imperiled, while Roku goes from strength to strength.

Following a first quarter loss of $26.1 million, TiVo told the world that it planned to split its once iconic company into two pieces. One business would focus on IP licensing and the other on video products (set-top boxes and software). Splitting itself into two companies better positions both to ultimately be sold off, or in TiVo-spin, to have “increased flexibility to pursue new and growing market opportunities.”

In an earnings call, TiVo CEO Raghu Rau noted that it would be easier for the company to sell its video products and related solutions—a $400 million business last year—to end-users without also hitting them up for licensing fees. “We believe that by separating from our IP Licensing business, our product business can pursue a customer-first strategy, without the encumbrances of an IP licensing model, and this should increase receptivity for our next generation products,” Rau said.

Meanwhile, the IP licensing business holds more than 5,500 patents from Rovi and TiVo and includes licensees in pay TV, OTT, consumer electronics and even social media. IP licensing earned the company $295 million last year. It may earn still more if TiVo’s multi-pronged litigation against Comcast proves successful, though the outlook is uncertain on that front.

While TiVo tumbles, Roku is raking it in. It reported strong revenue growth of 51 percent year-over-year and raised its 2019 gross profit forecast to $470 million. Roku has seen strong success in pushing its smart TV operating system, which it claims was in one of every three smart TVs sold during the first quarter of this year. Roku also has the lion’s share of the streaming device market, too. As its OS and hardware goes, viewers follow. Roku reported the number of hours users streamed on Roku devices (TVs or STBs) grew a whopping 74 percent year-over-year—the fifth straight quarter of streaming growth. As more content owners like Disney prepare their own streaming services, Roku is well positioned to capitalize as the all-inclusive hub for streamed content.

One clear reason why Roku is raking in profit while TiVo teeters is the former’s fast embrace of cord cutters. Once cable and satellite companies realized they could simply build DVRs into their own set-top boxes, much of TiVo’s rationale among consumers vanished. (This 2008 WIRED headline summed up the company’s predicament nicely.) TiVo responded to the drying up of its original DVR business by trying to sell boxes (and later just software) to cable companies. It was a perfectly logical move, but the timing was unfortunate as those customers were about to be buffeted by waves of cord cutters and cord shavers.

TiVo is also just too expensive for customers ostensibly looking to curb their monthly bills. Every single TiVo box sold to consumers comes with a mandatory subscription that costs between $7 and  $15/month. By contrast, you can pick up a Roku device for $30, no subscription required.