Time Warner: We’ll Store Shows

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Time Warner Cable is negotiating with cable- and broadcast-network programmers to expand its “Start Over” recording service to allow subscribers to replay television programs broadcast in the previous 24 or 48 hours.

Currently, select Time Warner subscribers in South Carolina can “start over” programs they have joined in progress and watch them in their entirety. Time Warner -- which records the shows on its own servers while they’re in progress -- wants to expand that capability to as many shows as possible that are broadcast in the past two days.

The new service, contained wholly within the Time Warner network, would be called “Look Back.” Time Warner hopes to launch the playback feature next year.

“In our research, Start Over was the No. 1 thing we could do for subscribers,” Time Warner executive vice president of product management Peter Stern said. “Look Back was No. 2.”

In Time Warner executives’ eyes, Start Over has been a resounding success, introduced in November to 10,000 digital-cable subscribers in Irmo, S.C.; and then provided to 25,000 subscribers in Columbia, S.C.

More than 70% of digital subscribers in Columbia use the service each month. In March, Time Warner logged 1 million Start Over sessions, Stern said. With an average viewing time of 15 minutes per Start Over session in March, Time Warner delivered 15 million more viewing minutes for programmers, Stern said.

And those minutes are a boon to advertisers and cable operators’ advertising revenues because ads can’t be skipped in the Start Over system.

The company plans to launch Start Over in another seven to eight divisions by year’s end, Stern said.

Whether Look Back will also prevent viewers from skipping ads is a key question. Stern said the cable company hasn’t made a decision one way or another, adding that it will be part of negotiations with programmers.

A second issue involves program rights. Cable networks don’t necessarily own Look Back-type playback rights for all of the programming they carry.

But Time Warner currently does not have Start Over rights for every cable network it carries on its channel lineup in Columbia, nor for every program on every Start Over network it has a deal with. The company only records and stores programs to which it has the content rights.

Look Back would require Time Warner to increase its on-demand storage capacity -- and perhaps its streaming capacity, as well -- to handle 24 hours or more of programming.

But that is a small capital expense, Stern said, and it would mesh with other company technology initiatives.

For more on Time Warner Cable’s Look Back, please see Matt Stump’s story on page 114 of Monday’s issue of Multichannel News.

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