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Cable Trails On Remote DVR

Forget to set your digital video recorder for that critical playoff game or American Idol episode?

Cable's biggest pay TV competitors — DirecTV, Verizon FiOS TV and AT&T U-verse — tout the ability to remotely manage digital video recorder settings using a Web browser or mobile device. And TiVo has offered the feature for several years to customers with Internet-connected DVRs.

Today, no major U.S. cable operators currently offer remote DVR scheduling widely, but MSOs are working behind the scenes to introduce it.

In the latest development, Verizon Communications last week said it is giving all FiOS TV DVR customers the ability to manage recordings via the Web, and now will let Home Media subscribers access their DVRs from non-Verizon Wireless handsets. The telco introduced the remote-management feature in January, but initially it was available only to Home Media DVR subs.

“We've had a tremendous, positive customer response to the freedom, flexibility and control that our remote DVR-management service provides,” said Verizon vice president of FiOS products Shawn Strickland.

The wireless application for Home Media DVR subscribers is available at (opens in new tab). Customers who are already using the wireless application with Verizon Wireless LG EnV2, LG Chocolate 2 or LG Voyager handsets can still access the remote DVR programming feature as they did before.

Meanwhile, a recent DirecTV ad campaign hammered home the message that the satellite TV operator provides remote scheduling of its DVRs — and cable doesn't.

In the spot showing the faux Cable Corp. Inc. boardroom, the executive played by John Michael Higgins (Kim & Kath) proposes to create some “brand heat” countering DirecTV's remote-DVR feature with a new marketing slogan: “Get Youthenized!” Whereupon another exec spouts, “We're gonna 'youthenize' America!”

Cable operators aren't as clueless as DirecTV implies, but they're not there yet.

Comcast at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show talked about providing DVR scheduling through its Fancast entertainment portal — and about offering the capability to other MSOs. The company expects to offer this feature later in the year.

Time Warner Cable is also working on deploying the capability, while Cablevision Systems confirmed that the feature is “in our plans” but declined to provide additional details.

Cox Communications, for its part, will begin rolling out remote DVR scheduling in 2009, spokeswoman Erin Lambremont said. The feature is included in its next-generation Tru2way guide, developed by NDS, which is scheduled for a late-summer launch.

While Charter Communications in early 2008 deployed remote-scheduling for subscribers with Digeo's Moxi DVRs, it does not yet offer the feature to customers using Motorola or Cisco DVRs. (The operator won't say how many subscribers use the Moxis.)

Bringing out such a simple-sounding feature is isn't a trivial task, according to Macrovision executive vice president of product management and marketing Corey Ferengul. Macrovision, which acquired Gemstar-TV Guide International, provides several interactive program guides to the cable market, including the Passport guide.

“There are lots of moving parts,” he said. “It's a much more complicated feature than anyone believes. We're trying to figure out the right approach.”

The feature, Ferengul pointed out, isn't brand-new. Gemstar-TV Guide introduced it, for example, two years ago.

“We were using to set up remote DVR, but didn't have a lot of cable takers,” he said. “Now you have a big ad campaign, and people's priorities change.”

Macrovision has not announced any plans to incorporate DVR remote-scheduling into any of its IPGs, but Ferengul said the company is looking into it.

“There are different ways to do it. That's part of the assessment,” he said. “It requires back-office integration to authenticate subscribers — it's an investment in time and effort.”