Time Warner Cable's Explorer 8000

Little noted in the hubbub about AOL Time Warner dropping the "AOL" from its corporate moniker is the news that Time Warner Cable has delivered over 150,000 TiVo-like devices to its customers—without the extra expense.

The company's Explorer 8000 is a set-top box (STB) with an inboard hard-disk recorder and the ability to record programs unattended, play them back skipping the commercials, and pause live broadcasts—just like the pioneering devices first offered by TiVo and ReplayTV.

TW Cable first tested the market for the devices in July 2002, with customers in Rochester, NY. Since September 1, the company has been delivering the boxes to customers in Manhattan, who can take advantage of all the benefits of high technology without incurring the costs associated with TiVo or ReplayTV, such as purchasing the recorder and signing up for a network subscription. The new digital video recorders do add slightly less than $10 to TW Cable's monthly bill, however.

Unlike other media companies, Time Warner doesn't have a huge investment in network programming and doesn't derive a substantial chunk of its revenue from television advertisers. On the other hand, its cable division has 9.3 million subscribers—if only half of them eventually sign up for the Explorer 8000 program, it could add approximately $46 million per month to the TW revenue stream. The company reportedly rolled its DVRs out with little announcement, relying primarily on word-of-mouth to build its market, the same strategy employed to build its Road Runner broadband service into one of the largest Internet service providers in the US, with 2.9 million subscribers.

The Explorer 8000 program went forth over the objections of some AOL execs in the organization, according to David S. Bennahum of Slate. Time Warner may eventually include DVR functionality in every new cable box, Ware claims.