TV time-shifting and recording company TiVo ( TIVO) has lofty plans to facilitate downloads of TV shows to Apple's ( APPL) iPod and Sony's ( SNE) PlayStation device. With TiVo facing a freeze-out at the hands of some former partners, the plan may smack some as a desperation move. But shares in the Alviso, Calif., tech company got a nice bump Monday on the news, rising 5%. TiVo, the progenitor and once reigning king of video recording and ad-skipping devices, has of late run up against a bevy of alternative services being launched and promoted by cable and satellite companies. The new initiative falls under the rubric of its TiVoToGo program, which lets Microsoft ( MSFT) mobile technology users download content to laptops. It will require consumers to a pay a fee for the enabling software. "The increasing popularity of mobile devices for viewing video such as Apple's iPod and the PSP device demonstrate the enormous consumer demand for entertainment on the go," TiVo said. "By enhancing our TiVoToGo feature, we're making it easy for consumers to enjoy the TV shows they want to watch right from their iPod or PSP -- whenever and wherever they want." The move comes as TiVo continues to contend with mounting pressure from cable companies deploying their own digital video recorders. News Corp. ( NWS)-owned DirecTV ( DTV) recently snubbed TiVo and is expected to begin touting its own products to customers shortly. DirecTV is expected to use a competing service from NDS Group ( NNDS), a News Corp.-controlled company whose technology is already deployed by Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB. The status of TiVo's relationship with cable giant Comcast ( CMCSA) is also a source of some worry for investors looking forward. Some advertisers and media buyers are becoming increasingly concerned about services that support and breed free content across media platforms. Sling Media, for instance, aims to "demystify convergence technologies" by enabling consumers to watch their cable, satellite or digital video recorder programming from wherever they are. The Slingbox turns any Internet-connected laptop or desktop PC into a TV.
Still, any rumpus is likely to be tempered by licensing agreements and technological protection, such as digital watermarks, that would help prevent illegal duplication of downloaded content. One network source says the networks "aren't particularly exercised" because the overwhelming majority of people are going to continue to watch shows on their full-screen televisions, not on small mobile devices. This person adds that "while we may see incremental usage, it won't amount to a sea change in viewership patterns." Ultimately, the question may boil down to how or if licensing fees are allocated. While the TiVo TV download play appears to be legal as long as individual users don't share files and proper protections are in place, the idea could face objections from producers and TV production companies, for example, which often enjoy rights across different formats. "It is a legal issue," says a media consultant who didn't want to be named. "The question is who owns the file, and the Supreme Court ruled essentially that you can copy it for personal use but not for performance or licensing purposes." That source says that TiVoing a program, much like taping a show with your VCR and then playing the tape on your other VCR/TV, is legal and that the iPod is essentially just another screen.