I’ve been dreading this day since I first got my ReplayTV in 2001. Time Warner Cable has earned a patent for a method of disabling trick-mode features on DVRs. The tech lets Time Warner block fast forwarding so recorded programming (i.e. commercials) can’t be skipped over.
Although the patent was filed back in 2007, the timing of its issue is interesting in light of the new Dish commercial-skipping feature in the Hopper DVR. The broadcast networks have gone lawsuit-happy over the Hopper, and Time Warner’s patent shows them that the cable company wants to back them up. Of course, the desire to block commercial-skipping features, and actual deployment of the technology are two different things. As Steve Donahue points out at Fierce Cable, the likely backlash against such a move by Time Warner would likely have the MSO back-pedaling as fast as it did four years ago when it first tried to institute bandwidth caps. Unfortunately, as with bandwidth caps, even if Time Warner fails at first, that doesn’t mean it won’t try and try again.
Many (if not all) of the pay-TV providers have already disabled fast forwarding for select on-demand programs. That’s easier to do when content is hosted in the network, but as we already know, network-based DVR services are starting to gain traction. Even if Time Warner never deploys its new blocking technology on home-based DVRs, it seems likely that they, or one of the other providers, will starting instituting the practice with network-based DVR. At that point, will subscribers flee the scene? Or will our other options be equally unappealing?