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TiVo says Bolt is designed for new customers, 'Pro' DVR coming next year

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Company is shaking things up to survive

It's no secret that TiVo has seen its fair share of troubles: after pioneering the DVR over a decade ago, the company could do little to stop cable companies from ultimately dominating the market with their similar DVRs leased directly to subscribers. And now, the core market for DVRs is slowly dissolving as streaming devices become more and more popular.

That's the environment TiVo's latest DVR, the Bolt, launched into this week. While the Bolt is still very much a TiVo at heart — with all of the good and bad that comes with it — the box represents a pretty significant shakeup for the company, which has moved at a near glacial pace for close to a decade.

"TiVo should have ten million customers today."

The change is apparent with just one glance at the Bolt's odd, angular white box that eschews the traditional, understated design of prior models. In a Q&A session with some of the brand's most loyal fans this week, the company's CMO Ira Bahr confirmed the obvious: TiVo is taking a different approach.

"Our goal is to deliver sophisticated, modern devices that will continue to breathe new life into this brand," Bahr says. He added, "This, as well as the updated branding is also a nod to a new and refreshed direction for the consumer part of our company." That's not exactly a revelation, but for a company as stagnant as TiVo, it's a significant step. It's shaking things up even if the changes — like that funky white box — risk making hardcore TiVo fans feel uncomfortable.

Bahr is frank about TiVo's situation in his comments to the company's fans:

There just aren't enough of you to sustain the company’s retail business alone ... TiVo is simply unable to build its business on the backs of its ever diminishing group of loyalists. We did 150,000 activations in our last fiscal year. Compare that to the millions of streamers out there, and the tens of millions of DVRs out there and you see that we’ve got a lot of ground to make up. In order to win for the company, and for YOU, we need to expand our market. If we fail to do this, we’re not going to be able to do much of anything.

The result of this new approach? Well, for now, it's a next-generation TiVo that, in many ways, is less capable than its predecessor. For the TiVo faithful, the Bolt simply isn't a realistic upgrade since it has fewer tuners (four, down from six) and less storage capacity than the best Roamio DVRs from the last generation. Yes, it adds 4K, a faster interface, and the nifty new SkipMode and QuickMode features, but no hardcore users will consider settling for a box with fewer tuners.

tivo bolt ui

TiVo knows this well, says Bahr. It's all part of the plan. He doesn't even try to sell the Bolt to the TiVo legion, admitting instead that the "Bolt is low on Tuners, light on storage, doesn’t fit into your racks, and really doesn’t offer this group much more than 4K."

"We already have a roadmap plan to bring you something you’ll like way better in 2016."

For those people, Bahr promises that more is on the way next year. A Pro model — likely without the bent box design — is in the works, he says. It will have no fewer than six tuners and you can bet on at least a few terabytes of storage. "We already have a roadmap plan to bring you something you’ll like way better in 2016," he says. There will also be a 4K-capable Mini next year. And they'll keep working on improving the software.

So the Bolt isn't really just the next generation TiVo. It — along with a widely-expected OTA version for cable-cutters — is the company's hope for getting more people on board with TiVo and paying those costly monthly service fees. As Bahr says, if TiVo did things right, it "should have ten million customers today." It's pretty late to start turning that ship around, but the company seems to be trying. The question is: will the Bolt be enough?