How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

Time Warner Cable angst

August 31, 2009: 4:17 PM ET

Time Warner Cable's DVR "upgrade" is a downgrade.

If you're a customer of America's second-largest cable company, as I am, you  came home one day recently to find that the new "Navigator" DVR system has taken over your TV--and taken your TV viewing hostage.

You used to be able to watch a show live and--let's say, you dashed to the kitchen and missed that touchdown pass--rewind and watch it in repeat.

Now you can't do that. The "Replay" button takes you only eight seconds back.

You used to be able to come home at 9:20 pm on a Thursday--after a rough day at work, let's say--and if your TV was already set to NBC, you pushed "Record" to capture 30 Rock in progress. That 30 Rock episode instantly popped into your library of recorded programs.

Now you can't record those in-progress programs either.

And don't get me started on "Start Over." This is a new feature that Time Warner Cable--recently spun off from Time Warner (TWX), which owns Time Inc., Fortune's parent--hyped leading up to the Navigator "upgrade." Now, if you press the little "Start Over" button that pops on your screen during certain programs, the program starts over--and you have to watch that show then and there. The new Navigator is like a stern grade-school teacher: No rewinding or fast-forwarding allowed during "Start Over"!

I'm not the only customer who isn't happy. After I advertised my angst on Facebook yesterday, one friend, Manhattan architect Eric Gartner, commented: "It's really really bad, i agree!"

Gary Belis, a long-ago Fortune colleague, wrote: "Hate it, hate it, HATE IT! And don't even get me started on trying to find my usual channels."

"FiOs can't get to Manhattan soon enuf," he added, referring to Verizon's (VZ) broadband Internet-phone-TV service.

Another comment came from Gilt Groupe CEO Susan Lyne, who once co-headed ABC Entertainment at Disney (DIS): "I called to complain that the upgrade had erased all my saved shows. The nice rep suggested I start over."

I too called Time Warner Cable customer service to complain. The nice rep told me yesterday that they've been getting lots of complaints. "I'm so sorry," he said, trying to console me by adding  that "sometimes a change in your equipment and in your personal life" is good.

Thank you. I needed that.

Time Warner Cable (TWC) spokesman Alex Dudley told me today that he wasn't aware of the problems. (He's a Connecticut resident and Cablevision (CVC) customer, he explained, so he hasn't used the new Navigator system.) "If there's any temporary pain, it'll be worth it," he said, noting that better program-search capabilities and other new functions are to come with the upgrade.

Fine, but really, I just want my rewind and fast-forward returned to me. As for the latter, Dudley says, programmers like Time Warner and the TV networks chose to block fast-forwarding, obviously to protect advertisers, "The networks and content owners would allow us to do "Start Over" only if fast-forward was disabled," he says.

Ah yes, the consumer loses again.

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About This Author
Pattie Sellers
Pattie Sellers
Senior Editor at Large, Fortune
Executive Director of MPW/Live Content, Time Inc.

Pattie Sellers has written more than 20 Fortune cover stories including "Marissa Mayer: Ready to Rumble at Yahoo," "Muhtar Kent's New Coke," "Oprah's Next Act", "The $100 Billion Woman" (Melinda Gates), and "Gone with the Wind" (Ted Turner). She co-founded Fortune Most Powerful Women and oversees the Fortune MPW Summit, the preeminent gathering of women leaders in business and beyond—and programs such as Fortune MPW Entrepreneurs and the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. Pattie also develops Live Content across Time Inc. Her blog, Postcards, is about how power players lead and navigate their careers. Pattie won Time Inc.'s prestigious MVP award for her performance in 2012.

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