Free TiVo recorders coming soon?

TiVo CEO Tom Rogers yesterday mentioned the company is considering "prospects of zero upfront," meaning TiVo might start giving away its trademark video recorders. Presumably, TiVo buyers would be entitled to a rebate that would refund all their cash, instead of most of it, which is the deal now. But then how would TiVo make its money? Simple: the $12.95 monthly subscriber fee that each of the four million TiVo owners pays for the service, which includes the two-week program guide. It's typically not a good omen when a company starts giving away its product, but I guess that depends on what you think TiVo's product is: the machine or the service. In any case, the tricks that TiVo does are rapidly being picked up by cable and satellite boxes, although TiVo is managing to stay a half-step ahead with features like TiVoToGo, which lets you transfer shows to some portables, and online scheduling, so you can log on from work in case you forgot to set your box to record Grey's Anatomy. Gotta give the company props for penetrating the video lexicon with its name — people will be "TiVo'ing" shows for a long time whatever happens to the company — but you have to wonder if "zero upfront" would be a new beginning or the beginning of the end.