Time Warner shame on you (the case of the missing vcr timer)

What happened

Time Warner Cable (in New York City) pushed a software upgrade to the cable box that got rid of the VCR timer feature.  This feature has existed since I got cable and allowed you to set the cable box to turn on/change channels automatically so you could record them on your VCR or standalone DVR.  I relied on this feature heavily.  I’m quite annoyed both by the fact the feature is gone and the way it was taken away.

Why tell your customers when you get rid of features?

I found out the VCR timer feature was gone when I got home last night.  I had set it on Wednesday night to record two shows from 8-10.  When I got home after 10 on Thursday to relax and watch one of them, I learned that my VCR had recorded two hours of blank screen.  While the shows are on cbs.com and hulu.com, they weren’t up last night when I was planning to watch them.  I also now have to watch them on a small computer screen rather than the TV.  It’s like I didn’t have cable yesterday.  Only it wasn’t due to a power outage; it was due to an intentional change by Time Warner.

I went back online to check last month’s bill.  Nary a mention of such a pending change.  Surely they didn’t think nobody used this feature.  A month’s notice would have been nice so I could have prepared in advance and not missed TV content.  Plus, why let people program a timer if you are planning to delete it.

What not to tell irritated customers

  1. You can use the power on to a specific channel timer. – Umm.  I can do that if I only want to record one channel each time I go out and never go on vacation.
  2. It’s better than before.  You can do <marketing blurb here>. – I’m mad, not stupid.  I used to be able to record shows for free*.   Now it’s $10 a month to do that plus some features I don’t need.  That’s not better. (As an aside, I used to be able to watch one show on network TV and record another for free before I got cable.  It’s sad when cable takes away a feature you get on regular TV.  I’ve been using an A/B switch and over the air antenna for that problem.) * Ok fine, it isn’t free.  I bought the VCR.  But that was a one time cost.  And I bought it when movie rentals came on videocassettes so I needed it anyway.
  3. I’ll give you one month of DRV free as an inconvenience credit because you sound annoyed. – While I’ll take the $10, I’m not any less annoyed.  An inconvenience credit works for an actual inconvenience (like the fact that my tv didn’t work yesterday from my point of view.)  It doesn’t make up for a new fee.  Hey Time Warner – I’d like to suggest a deal to you: I give you $10 once and then you give me $10 a month every month.

Why worry about customer usability when you have a monopoly?

My area has three choices for TV: Time Warner Cable, Verizon Direct TV or Verizon FIOS.  My building isn’t yet wired for FIOS and Direct TV requires a satellite (many apartment buildings don’t allow you to put up a satellite.)  Which means Time Warner is my only choice.

What this boils down to

Cable just went up $10 a month plus taxes.  I’d actually rather they have just raised the price of cable.  For that you’d get notice and it would be at the end of your contract.  This is just plain sneaky.

And guess what, you get to go the Time Warner store tomorrow

Ok.  So now I need a DVR.  There are two ways you can get one.  Go the the Timer Warner store or (wait and) pay for installation.  I don’t remember how much customer service said the installation visit is because I need to get this on a timely basis.  I’m rarely home when I want to watch TV and I resent paying the cable bill for TV I can’t watch.  So regardless of the other things I need to do tomorrow, I have to get myself to the Time Warner store to exchange my cable box for one that includes a DVR.  Assuming there wasn’t a run on them today from other people in the same situation.

And what went well

  1. The customer service rep was calm and polite.
  2. You can cancel dvr at any time.  I don’t think Time Warner will reverse their decision to force people to pay for a DVR.  However in the unlikely event they do, I’m not stuck with the DVR.  (even if I like the DVR, I don’t like that they are forcing me to get one.)
  3. Edited to add -the actual exchange and setup of the new box went well.  DVRs are certainly nice and I had been thinking of getting one when my VCR broke.  It was just that I wanted to do it on my own schedule.

And a big thanks to both CBS and ABC via Hulu for making it possible to watch the shows I missed.


21 thoughts on “Time Warner shame on you (the case of the missing vcr timer)

  1. VCR?? Talk about low resolution!

    Your VCR isn’t cable ready? My understanding is even with digital cable, analog cable for most of the stations is still available for “free”. I’m sure CBS is part of those channels. I’m sure your VCR can schedule channel changes.

  2. Scott,
    It does. When someone makes something where you can autodownload certain shows from the internet and easily transfer them to the TV, I’m done with cable. And clearly they can charge for this device since so many people pay for cable now!

    Or maybe a thin client that you can leave near the TV that can download the shows.

  3. Here’s the “response” from my e-mail complaint. (I also sent a snail mail letter, but that takes longer.) It’s nice they replied, but “we’ve read and ignored your comments” would be sufficient. I have no need for an ad about why the new system is so much better.


    We appreciate that you have taken the time to share your comments, and we can assure you that your comments and suggestions are not going unnoticed.

    The Time Warner Cable Navigator provides a faster and easier way to access all you want to see. In the near future, the Navigator will also enable us to offer new interactive services such as games, polling and integrated services.

    The Navigator includes standard digital navigator functionality, plus new features such as:
    Access Menu: Provides viewers with a consolidation of all of your setting and viewing choices. The Access Menu gives you easy access, to On Demand choices and ?what?s on now? program categories such as news, sports, kids and more.
    Enhanced Menu: Displays a pop-up of other channels closely associated (by genre or content) with the currently-tuned channel.
    Find Shows: Allows viewers to search for both broadcast and On Demand programs by category, by title and by rating. New keyboard search capability allows even non-DVR digital customers to type program
    titles for direct access without having to know the channel location.

    For more information about the new Navigator guide, please visit our Website and select Learn-Digital Cable-Navigator On screen Guide . Or you can go directly to http://www.timewarnercable.com/nynj/learn/cable/navigator/default.html

    Once again, thank you for taking the time to let us know your thoughts.


    Time Warner Cable
    Customer Support

  4. > My understanding is even with digital cable, analog cable for most of the
    > stations is still available for “free”. I’m sure CBS is part of those channels. I’m
    > sure your VCR can schedule channel changes.
    My VCR is old so it probably doesn’t have the latest functions. (It was probably only a matter of time before it broke anyway.) The VCR can schedule channel changes on the TV. To get any cable station, it has to be tuned to channel 3. And yes, I could go back to recording over the air TV. I’m not ready to take a step backwards.

    Rereading my post, I really am significantly more upset that there was no notice the VCR timer was going away. It is time to join the present/future and use a DVR.

  5. Jeanne,

    I feel your pain and aggravation. They tried to sell me their dvr and I said no, they tried to give it to me free for one month, and I still said no, and I am more annoyed because no one at Time Warner is taking responsibility for their actions and will acknowledge how terribly this was handled. I wish I didn’t need cable to watch my tv. Shame on them.

  6. Lianne,
    The funny thing is that I *do* like the DVR. If they had offered a one month trial before getting rid of the VCR option, I probably would have subscribed on my own without being pushed!

  7. I had a DVR once and turned it in for various reasons, I want to use my vcrs now but cant program them, please let me know how to program my vcrs.

  8. They rolled out the update here in Austin Texas and sure enough the VCR timer is gone and I am very upset. Like many others I used it all the time. Not just to record but primarily to force the channel to change automatically so I did not have to pay attention to the little reminder. Now all you can do is set a reminder that will not change the channel for you, let alone turn on the box.

    I have been looking to dump Time warner and this latest “take away” is the last straw. In fact they say it is faster, the guide is actually slower.

  9. And I have heard that it is STILL possible to use VCR with the new system (a Time Warner person told me so, but then I got disconnected and did not get her name!!). So maybe we just do not know how…?

  10. @Barbara

    From my understanding they were either flat out lying or mis-informed. You can still use VCRs but the timers which previously were supported are now purposely disabled.

  11. Maybe this is what she meant- that one can still use it, but only 1 time, w/o the timer.
    I know it is very annoying, I know how it annoyed me! It’s a monopoly is what it is! And we have no choice, we have to use TW!

  12. @Barbara
    That is correct. You can use a VCR so long as you only want to record one thing and you can set the cable box to the right channel beforehand and leave it powered on.

  13. I have found a way to get around the missing vcr option. Go to guide on remote and scroll to channel you want to record and press select, that will give you and option to set a reminder, choose set a reminder and press select again, that will highlight the channel you want to record, also leave set top box on as it will not turn it self on. Now set your vcr as you always did making sure vcr timer is set to turn on at the time you set reminder on set top box. You can turn tv and vcr off if you are taping while at work or sleeping, works very well for us and no DVR needed. Good luck.

  14. Hi Jeanne, you can record up to 6 one hour programs on sp using 6 hour tape. When you are on the guide move it forward to the channel you want to record then select it and set the reminder, you will see the program highlighted. Now move to next program to be recorded and do the same. Remember to leave set top box on. When the reminder shows on tv screen don’t do anything, it will change to the program automatically to next program and through your list of programs you set a reminder for. You will have to set vcr to same times as the programs you set a reminder for. If you encounter any issues will be glad to help, Rich

  15. Oh cool. So the reminder switches the channel. That was the part I didn’t realize you can do on multiple shows. That’s cool. It’s just like the old VCR timer.

  16. Update now that it is more than 6 months later. I do like the DVR and wouldn’t go back to the VCR. I still think Time Warner could have handled it better and given some notice on the pending demise/movement of a feature.

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