Time Warner to Offer Digital STBs

Caving to competition from direct broadcast satellite operators, Time Warner Cable plans to offer its customers a digital set-top box (STB) that will let them record, pause, and play back live television programs, much like the devices made by TiVo, Inc. and SonicBlue's ReplayTV division.

Time Warner Cable chairman Glenn Britt announced in mid-July that his company would soon have a digital video recorder (DVR) "for the customers who want it," explaining that "competitive pressure from satellite operators requires us to do so." Satellite services EchoStar and DirecTV have offered set-top boxes with DVR capability for more than a year.

The as-yet unnamed and unpriced digital video recorders won't have the controversial "commercial zapping" feature found in SonicBlue's Replay 4000 machine, which skips ahead in 30-second increments. The feature lets users avoid most commercials, which are typically 30 seconds long. ReplayTV subscribers can also forward recorded programs to other subscribers, a feature which has prompted lawsuits by programming providers against the manufacturer for copyright violations.

Some television industry executives, in particular Turner Broadcasting System chairman Jamie Kellner, have predicted that loss of revenue from advertisers could cause the demise of "free TV." Critics have responded that "free TV" disappeared long ago, with most American viewers paying steep monthly fees for cable or satellite service, a curious state of affairs that has them paying to watch advertising. TBS is part of the AOL Time Warner media empire.

Time Warner's new set-top box will be made by Scientific Atlanta, and should be available in some markets by the end of summer, Britt stated.