Following in the footsteps of RCN and Suddenlink, Charter Communications has signed on to use TiVo's Premiere DVR set-top boxes as it works to implement its next-generation TV strategy.

By signing the multi-year deal, the nation's fourth-largest cable operator has set the wheels in motion for a hybrid, IP-based platform that will merge linear TV, VOD and Internet-based content.

The first phase will launch in the second-half of this year and will include TiVo's Premiere DVRs and an HD interface that is branded for Charter's customers. At some point the platform will expand to include multi-room and non-DVR platforms, new devices and features and third-party applications.

"I think the big thing is, from a cable provider's perspective, we want to leverage other folks who know how to deliver great consumer products and leverage third parties that are proven innovators in the market place," said Charter vice president product management Rich DiGeronimo.

Charter looked at several options before selecting TiVo. DiGeronimo said TiVo's successful launches with RCN and Suddenlink played a role
 in Charter's decision because it gives the cable operator a quicker time to market.

Comcast and Cox Communications are also working with TiVo, although after years of work Comcast's effort seems to have stalled.

"We're only doing minor modifications to the existing TiVo retail product," DiGeronimo said. "One of the modifications is the Charter branding, but the bigger one will be integration with Charter's video on demand platform. Our firm belief is that from a customer standpoint if we can integrate things like DVR content, linear TV, cable VOD, personal content through home media as well as over the top IP video all in one place it's a really compelling and simple product for consumers."

For now, TiVo isn't allowed to stream content from the likes of Netflix, but DiGeronimo said Charter wasn't ruling out such an arrangement down the road. Instead of fending off over-the-top competition, Charter wants to be able to provide those services through its data connections.

"It's our intent to bring customers as many choices as possible," he said. "We really feel like if you take a look at this from our customers' perspective this would  be an even more compelling product if it included things like Netflix. It's our intent to go out and have those discussions with all Internet video providers to see if we can meet our consumers' needs.

"Charter is already generally the fasted broadband provider in the markets we serve. We have the right network for IP video, that's for sure."

Charter ended last year with DOCSIS 3.0 enabled in 50 percent of its footprint and expects to have it largely deployed throughout by the end of this year.

TiVo's HD user interface allows Charter subscribers to search across VOD, linear TV and online content. TiVo recently announced an iPad application that will allow Charter subscribers to not only search across the various platforms, but also receive recommendations and more information on shows or movies. Unlike some of the iPad remote control apps that have been discussed in the cable industry, the TiVo iPad app interfaces with the set-top box via its wireless connection to a router that is also plugged into the box.

Using the iPad app, viewers can access poster art, launch Web applications like YouTube, find associated content based on a show that is currently being viewed on a TV and tune to DVR recordings.

Once TiVo launches, Charter customers will also be able to transfer content to different devices, schedule their DVRs remotely and control live via trick play.

"We want to bring together these disparate worlds of content that right now are very confusing for a consumer," DiGeronimo said. "We want to present the content to the consumer in a simple to use solution that leverages our broadband superiority."