Time Warner Cable targets rivals, Hulu with Look Back

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Time Warner Cable will launch on Monday a service to allow subscribers to watch some of their favorite shows three days after they’ve originally aired as it aims to stay ahead of the growing threat of cheaper Web video services like Netflix Inc and Hulu.

The entrance to the Time Warner Center is seen at Columbus Circle in New York August 4, 2010. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

The new service, called Look Back, also is targeted at differentiating the second largest U.S. cable company from rivals like satellite providers DirecTV and Dish Network Corp or new video services from the phone companies Verizon Communications and AT&T Inc.

Look Back is launching nationally to most of Time Warner Cable’s 13 million or so customers on 24 channels including ABC, NBC, Discovery Network and Food Network, Time Warner said. The same networks also will be available on high definition channels.

If a show has aired, say, between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. on a Sunday night it will be available to play and rewind via the customer’s remote control until 9 p.m. on Wednesday night.

The service has disabled the ability to fast-forward through commercials that aired live. This was one of the conditions Time Warner Cable had to meet for programing rights for the new service.

Time Warner Cable’s Chief Programing Officer Melinda Witmer said the new service will allow programmers and advertisers to more easily get from Nielsen, the TV ratings company, the number of minutes of commercials that are watched by viewers because programs and commercials are saved on Time Warner’s servers.

“This gives consumers more options so they don’t have to think about whether they have set up their DVRs to record a show, Look Back does so automatically,” Witmer said.

The new service is planned to launch on more channels in coming months as Time Warner Cable expands its server capacity. Witmer said the cable company already has programing rights for more than three times its launch offering. Look Back will be complementary to its ‘Start Over’ service which allows subscribers to restart a show that has already begun airing.

Like other cable companies Time Warner Cable has struggled with losing more video customers due to the weak economy and stiffer competition from rivals. In the last year it has lost an average of 100,000 video customers each quarter.

There is also growing concern some customers are dropping traditional pay-TV services altogether -- a trend called cord-cutting -- and opting for lower-cost Web services such as Netflix. Cable executives insist they have seen little evidence of consumers cutting the cord.

Cablevision Systems Corp is taking a slightly different path to offering its subscribers more on-demand programing features and last week said it will start rolling out its long-expected network-based digital video recorder technology in New York City this quarter.

Cablevision executives said they plan to bring an end to the purchase of physical, home-based DVRs soon after this first launch.

Cable and satellite companies are rolling out new remote DVR services so people can program their DVRs from their smartphones and tablet devices like the iPad.

Collins Stewart analyst Thomas Eagan said pay-TV companies have to offer more flexible services in order to keep customers, who could be willing to settle for lower quality content for a cheaper price and better user experience.

“If cable can roll out a much easier intuitive guide like an iPad and offer all you can eat video on demand with extensive library of content I think that will be hugely helpful to helping them win,” said Eagan.

Reporting by Yinka Adegoke; editing by Carol Bishopric, Diane Craft