updated 8/12/2005 3:46:33 PM ET 2005-08-12T19:46:33

Add TiVo Inc. to the list of companies trying to wed the Internet to television. The digital recording company is preparing to enable customers to download TV shows to their set-top boxes via the Internet — even before the shows air on TV.

TiVo has struck a deal with the Independent Film Channel to transmit several of the cable channel's shows through a broadband connection as part of a trial program. A group of customers were asked to take part in the test and those who chose to participate will begin receiving the IFC shows next week, said Tivo spokesman Elliot Sloane.

"TiVo is doing a test next week with a content provider," Sloane said. "They are going to trial this technology."

Photographs of a message sent to TiVo customers was posted on Engadget.com, a Web log dedicated to technology. According to the screen shots, TiVo was offering to transmit three IFC shows beginning Aug. 19, before they aired on the cable channel.

Sloane confirmed that the company sent the messages to customers.

Content on demand has long been a holy grail for Internet and cable companies as they hunt for the next generation of television. No one yet has found a way to overcome the considerable technological hurdles, such as finding a speedy way to pump two-hour movies through broadband, or convince Hollywood that it can profit from Internet broadcasts.

Still, broadband connections are picking up speed, and are moving closer to becoming a reliable delivery method for broadcast-quality video. Should the day come that video is downloaded at the touch of a button, some of the stakeholders in the sector foresee a vast video universe of endless variety.

For TiVo, the news comes a day after the company saw its stock fall more than 6 percent following a media report that DirecTV was planning to stop marketing the service to its 14 million customers. News Corp.-owned DirecTV is planning to throw support behind a competing digital recording company. About 70 percent of TiVo's customers have come from its deal with DirecTV.

Struggling to boost the number of its customers and facing the loss of one of its top partners, TiVo is scrambling to find new ways to appeal to the public as well as monetize its service.

In recent months, the company, which built its reputation by helping users skip commercials, has begun experimenting with new ways to sell advertising.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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