Cable Operators

Subs Report DVR Glitches

10/24/2004 8:00 PM Eastern

Some cable customers last week continued to report problems with digital video recorders that result in a frozen picture on their television screens, forcing them to reboot the set-tops.

While Time Warner Cable said it had fixed a software bug on Oct. 15 that had affected subscribers in New York and other undisclosed divisions using Scientific-Atlanta Inc. DVRs, some subscribers in New York said last week the picture-freeze problem persists.

Customers of other operators that use Scientific-Atlanta’s 8000-series DVRs, including Adelphia Communications Corp. and Cox Communications Inc., have also reported DVR glitches.

ANECDOTAL REPORTS

Cox subscriber Martha Kuska said she began experiencing problems with picture freeze that required a reboot of her S-A high-definition DVR shortly after it was installed about three weeks ago. Kuska, a Niceville, Fla., resident, said her family had used a standard-definition DVR with no problems since June, but that the standard definition 8000-level DVR began acting up after the high-def DVR was installed.

Kuska said an Adelphia field technician told her the HD DVR may have overheated, even though it was installed in a cabinet with an open door. She said the technician told her problems with the DVR causing picture freeze was a “known glitch.”

A spokeswoman for Cox’s Gulf Coast region said the company hasn’t received widespread complaints about the DVRs.

Officials from Time Warner Cable, S-A and interactive program guide supplier Pioneer Digital Technologies had worked together in recent weeks to fix a bug that resulted in picture freeze problems at Time Warner’s New York City division and some other undisclosed markets.

Time Warner and S-A officials maintained the problem had been fixed with a software download, but one Wall Street media analyst and New York resident said last week he continues to have problems with his S-A DVR.

The analyst, who asked not to be identified, said Wednesday that in addition experiencing picture freeze while watching programs that were recorded on the DVR, the picture freeze problem occurred while watching live TV, including last Tuesday’s New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox baseball playoff game.

“The box has tendency to crash (freeze) when I do things other than just watching TV. That is, during fast forward, reverse, eight-second track back, or at times even changing channels,” the analyst said in an e-mail message.

Time Warner New York reps have scheduled a service call this week to check on the problem, and they also gave the analyst a $49 credit on his monthly cable bill, he said.

Time Warner Cable spokesman Keith Cocozza said last Thursday that the DVR problem in New York had been fixed, and that the problems affecting the analyst might need specific attention.

Adelphia subscriber Sam Sterling, of South Florida, last week called his S-A DVR “the best invention I think in a long time,” but said he has experienced some problems with the DVR. Since June, he said his DVR shuts off automatically each day at 1:10 a.m.

S-A officials declined to comment last week on how failure rates with its DVRs compare to failure rates with other set-tops.

In a statement, S-A spokeswoman Sara Stutzenstein said S-A tests its products before they are deployed in the field and works closely with operators on software downloads for the set-tops.

“Errors within software code are more likely to surface once it is downloaded to a much larger number of boxes, and usually occur as a result of unanticipated user behaviors and unique circumstances. When we receive field reports concerning problems with software code running on our set-tops, our diagnostic tools help us determine the root causes of those problems,” Stutzenstein said.

S-A: SUBS LOVE IT

Stutzenstein pointed to research S-A conducted that found, on a scale of 1 to 10, 74% of cable customers rate the DVR as an 8-10 for living up to expectations.

S-A’s DVR customers include Time Warner Cable, Cox, Comcast Corp., Charter Communications Inc. and Adelphia.

DVRs are one of S-A’s most popular products.

The company said last Thursday it sold 397,000 DVRs in its fiscal first quarter, including 248,000 standard-definition models and 149,000 high-def DVRs.

S-A said it shipped 40,000 DVRs to Cablevision Systems Corp. during the quarter, and that the MSO — after originally saying it would deploy the DVRs during S-A’s first fiscal quarter — will now deploy the boxes during S-A’s second fiscal quarter.

Janco Partners analyst April Horace said she believed Cablevision’s delayed rollout of S-A DVRs was related to a Cablevision change in marketing strategy.

March