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TiVo goes YouTubular

Tivo TiVo made more announcements Monday about its broadband strategy, which struck me as  interesting more for their implications than for their actual impacts. The one that seemed to get the most attention was a plan to let subscribers upload home movies into private channels that their friends can tune in (or rather, download from). I think it's a better idea than some other observers do, mainly because I send DVDs of my kids' antics to every member of my extended family. Of course, this won't be a useful feature for me until my relatives get TiVos -- something that's not likely to happen anytime soon. But the point of this announcement is to herald an important change in the infrastructure for consuming TV. TiVo is enabling users to become television programmers, just as websites like YouTube enable people to cast their videos to hundreds of millions of computer screens. Think about how useful this might be not just for individuals, but also for companies that want to distribute videos but can't crack the cable/satellite channel lineups.
Something similar can be said for TiVo's promise of a "unified search" function next year that will let users comb simultaneously through the TV channel lineup and Internet video offerings. Unless TiVo signs more deals with online content providers, this feature won't be terribly meaningful. But this kind of searching capability is a boon for independent programmers and other online video outlets trying to compete for eyeballs with CBS, ESPN and company. It's an important step toward a level playing field between video from the networks and video from the Net. (The networks would still have the upper hand when viewers scroll through TiVo's electronic program guide, which doesn't include Internet content.)
Of course, the proliferation of options threatens to overwhelm viewers, just as subscription music services and online stores can daunt users with their ever-growing catalogs (more than 2.5 million songs and climbing daily). In response, TiVo plans to do a version of the celebrity music playlist: celebrities' recommendations for what movies and TV shows to watch. I could see why that might have some appeal, but its value will depend on how much effort the stars put into their critiques. If it winds up being a bunch of actors and directors plugging their own works (or, worse, shows and films that are already hits), then it will be just another TiVo feature that subscribers turn off.

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Times editorial writer Jon Healey pens opinion pieces about a variety of business issues, and blogs about technologies that are changing the entertainment industry's business model.

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