TiVo is working on a couple of crowd-pleasing features, according to patent applications filed last November and last week. The two technologies discussed in the patent applications (#20060127039 and #20060127037 for those scoring at home) both relate to new ways to access TiVoed shows, and they’re both on the short-short version of my own wish list.
To wit, US Patent Application #20060127039 talks about pulling recorded shows off of other DVRs across “a network” (presumably the Internet) in case you missed or deleted a recording. Under the proposed method, you’d notice that you missed recording Antiques Road Show and in a blind panic send a request through your trusty DVR box. Your DVR would then send authentication info to a central server to prove that you’d normally be able to record that show, and the server would set up a Bittorrentish download for you from a pool of other DVRs that did in fact record the show. The file transfer would be secured by encrypting the traffic with a key tied to your DVR’s MAC address.
So you, the user, is essentially freed from the obligation to remember to record the shows you’d like to see, as you can just pull the stuff you miss off of other users’ hard drives anyway, and the content providers should be placated by the hardware-specific encryption and centralized authentication of your right to watch what you’re requesting. It’s all good to me, and not entirely nonobvious, so I don’t mind the patent.
If that wasn’t interesting enough, have a look at Patent Application #20060127037. This one is regarding “secure transfer and playback” of audio and video content across what appears to be any platform you can think of. In particular, it’s a specification for moving DVR-recorded files to handheld devices, to your PC, or to other DVRs in your home, letting you watch what you recorded (or didn’t, if the other patent bears fruit) on any device you own. You’d have to pay for the privilege of shuffling the latest episode of Desperate Housewives onto your cell phone or slinging American Idol: The Funniest Auditions from the DVR in your living room to the DVR in your secret basement theater, but at least you’d have the option to do so. And again, everything would be secured by hardware network addresses and authenticated against a central database, keeping ABC and Fox from bombarding the TiVo headquarters with cease-and-desist trebuchets.
This time, the patentability of the idea seems less enforceable, because it’s a rather obvious thing to do. Perhaps the specifics are detailed enough to make a difference, but I am not a lawyer and will leave that up to future lawsuits to decide, as I’m sure they will.
TiVo seems to “get” the media consumer of today, as evidenced by these patents and the service’s low customer churn rates. The trick lies in convincing studios and TV networks that these things are not evil, and will not bring about the End of Entertainment As We Know It (© 1987 Berry, Buck, Mills, Stipe). The media world will face an apocalypse, not now but soon, and this sort of customer-friendly initiative will be at the forefront of that change. Kudos to TiVo for keeping up with the times.