TiVo (TIVO), a company built on making clever cable boxes, is moving away from its roots in a play for people who don’t want to pay for cable at all. On Monday, TiVo announced a new version of its Roamio DVR, the OTA, which costs $50 and can only be used to record broadcast signals coming across the airwaves.
The pitch is that people can control when and where they watch television, because the Roamio pairs with applications on Apple (AAPL) devices. It’s similar to the service that Aereo offered until that company’s legal problems forced it into dormancy. Startups such as Simple.TV also do more or less the same.
TiVo has a reputation for offering an easy-to-use service, and its name recognition likely gives it a leg up. But the Roamio OTA also contains a strange twist for a device targeting those who want to avoid monthly cable bills: It comes with a $15 monthly service fee.
These fees are standard for TiVo’s Roamio line of products. But it’s about twice as much as what Aereo charged. What’s more, a monthly fee is not a requirement for someone who just wants to record broadcast television to watch later. Simple.TV sells a device for $200 that does much of what the Roamio OTA does without a monthly charge. (Quick math: After 10 months, Simple.TV is cheaper.)
TiVo does offer a way out of paying $15 a month: Customers can pay $500 for a lifetime subscription—that’s the lifetime of the media player, not the media watcher. If a customer plans on using the Roamio for more than 33 months, then this deal starts paying off. But it’s not nearly as cheap as it sounds at first.