Just what the television industry needs, increased competition from those wacky YouTube videos that 68 million people watch every month.
Only now, it will be easier than ever to view them on television screens.
Beginning Thursday, TiVo will offer thousands of its subscribers the ability to stream YouTube videos onto their television sets through their broadband-enabled TiVo boxes.
It's TiVo's first deal for streaming online content, though the company has partnerships with 60 Internet sites that provide content to TiVo. Unlike with those relationships, TiVo users won't be able to store YouTube video clips, just watch them and bookmark them for easy retrieval later.
TiVo's most popular Internet content partner thus far is Amazon Unbox, which features rented movies that are downloaded to TiVo set-top boxes for viewing on TV screens just as if they were recorded TV shows.
Tara Maitra, GM of content services at TiVo, said the company's users have downloaded 27 million pieces of content from the 60 Internet partners. Beyond Amazon Unbox, product reviews from the likes of CNET and comedy shorts from such sources as the Onion and Break.com are popular.
YouTube, though, is expected to quickly outdo them all. According to Nielsen//NetRatings, YouTube attracted 68 million unique users in May who streamed 3.8 billion videos, making it by far the most popular video brand on the Internet. Fox Interactive Media, which includes MySpace, was second with 18 million unique users and 328 million video streams.
"Will there be a time when people turn on their TV sets and watch YouTube videos instead of TV shows? Time will tell," Maitra said.
Not in big numbers anytime soon, though, because while TiVo has 3.8 million subscribers, only about a fifth of them have the necessary equipment--a TiVo Series 3 or TiVo HD--for grabbing YouTube content and displaying it on TV screens.
Many of the clips at YouTube, in fact, already have aired on TV as portions of full-length TV shows that were recorded, pared down to a few minutes, then posted to the site without permission from those who own the rights. Viacom and others are suing YouTube parent Google over the practice, but Maitra said the legal squabble won't affect TiVo.
"TiVo isn't explicitly making the content available, it's just a window to YouTube," she said.
TiVo first said in March that it was working with YouTube and that a product would be available in six months, so a launch today puts the initiative two months ahead of schedule.
Apple, via its Apple TV, which isn't nearly as popular as TiVo, also allows users to play YouTube videos on TV screens, though neither Apple nor YouTube will say how often the feature is used.