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TiVo Delivers Ipreview Feature

NEW YORK –Showtime and Home &Garden TV will be among the first TV networks to make broad use of the long-awaited Ipreview function on TiVo’s personal video recorder service, the companies announced during a Digital Hollywood seminar on interactive television.

Meanwhile, TiVo’s hardware partner Sony announced it has joined Philips by introducing a TiVo video recorder into the market.

The Sony Digital Network Recorder (SVR-2000), which was unveiled at CES in January , is now rolling out to a few select retail accounts and will be broadly available at Sony dealers around the country at the end of June, said Stacy Jolna, TiVo chief programming officer.

The Sony unit will store up to 30 hours of programming and will carry a $399 estimated retail price. It has a slimmer design than the Philips unit and will enable users to program their Sony-made VCRs to automatically dub TiVo programs onto video tape for archival purposes.

Philips units also allow for VCR programming, but they require users to manually press a record button following a TiVo-prompted countdown.

Philips is currently selling a 30-hour model at $399 and last month reduced the price on its 14-hour model to $299. Jolna said he has seen prices even lower at some price-aggressive dealers.

The Ipreview an-nouncement will be a bonus to TiVo, Showtime and viewers, Jolna said. The function will enable users to easily program their TiVo units to record programs advertised in up-coming promotional spots on Showtime’s primary channel. Each time Showtime airs a promotional spot for an upcoming event, an Ipreivew “thumbs-up” icon will appear onscreen, signaling TiVo viewers that they can schedule a recording at that moment by clicking a single button on their TiVo remotes.

Jolna said Showtime will be the first to make regular use of the Ipreview feature, although he said NBC has been testing the system with some of the promotions it airs on its network.

HGTV said at press time that it too plans to use the feature and will appear as a TiVo network parnter in the service’s showcase area.

Gene Falk, Showtime Digital Media Group senior VP, said the feature, which will be seen in June, is significant because it will en-sure viewers re-member to watch major movies and programs and will give them the ability of scheduling season passes to Showtime-exclusive series. That means that with a few additional clicks of the remote, the program will be recorded every week for the remainder of the season, even if Showtime elects to change the airtime.

Jolna said other networks are expected to add the capability in the near future.

Meanwhile, Showtime announced last month that it was offering network “showcases” on the Replay TV system, a hard-drive recording system that competes with TiVo. Panasonic recently began shipping these ShowStopper Replay devices to dealers. Both Panasonic and Replay are heavily advertising the service on national television spots.

Replay recently announced in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that it had registered 3,500 service users as of March 31. However, this number was prior to delivery of Panasonic units in the market. The company has sold set-top recorders under its own brand, primarily over e-commerce sites.

The marketing effort has not gone unnoticed by TiVo, which plans a major brand awareness advertising campaign effort of its own in coming weeks using national and regional TV spots tied with newspaper and lifestyle magazine ads. Jolna declined to reveal the advertising budget.

TiVo hinted that other announcements are on the way, including the download of version 2.0 of the system software. The new upgrade will include an enhanced Showcases area, complete with multilayered graphics and background music. Other additions to come will be content from the iFilm website via the TiVo platform.