TWC Apologizes For Botched 1-Cent-Movie Weekend, Offers Coupons

Gadgetress reports that if you live in the SoCal area where Time Warner Cable‘s penny movie sale was occurring this weekend, and you couldn’t actually watch any of the movies you rented, you can call 1-888-TWCABLE visit and request a coupon good for one 1-cent-movie-on-demand. Their spokesperson says:

We totally exceeded the number by 3-times the amount. It was hugely successful. But a lot of people used it at peak times, which overloaded the system. For any inconvenience we caused for customers, we do apologize.

“Time Warner Cable apologizes for 1-cent movie mess” [Gadgetress] (Thanks to Brett and Pete!)


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  1. tange1 says:


  2. zimmi88 says:

    Well, they’re addressing the issue… that’s good. =)

    Though, maybe next time, they should plan for the increased bandwidth a little more.

  3. SatyaKaplah says:

    Wait a minute… good for one 1 cent movie? How often do those come along. Its their way of getting out of it for free.
    1. Steal customer’s pennies
    2. Don’t deliver the service
    3. Offer coupons valid on nothing.
    4. Profit

  4. youbastid says:

    Just a tip, if you call 1-888TWCABLE they direct you to the website where you can ask for the coupon there.


  5. simplegreen says:

    so much for basic load testing of systems…

    • gStein_*|bringing starpipe back|* says:

      @simplegreen: i’m not sure that they actually KNEW what the max load of their system was until this promotion/fiasco…
      although if their intent was to stress-test their system, they should have informed customers of their intent… so i doubt my guess is right.

  6. humphrmi says:

    I love it when companies blame their inability to deliver on “peak times” and “the system.”

    Peak times are, by definition, the time when most people are accessing the system.

    And “the system” is sized and maintained by people, based on input from their customers. But it’s easier to blame “the system” than to say “our marketing people came up with this hair-brained scheme and didn’t bother telling the techs and we screwed up.”

    • OggJoshua says:

      I work at the company with which Time Warner Los Angeles contracts the core of its VOD backend. Hi.

      @simplegreen: @Gstein: They know what the capacity of their VOD system is. They know how many x Mb/s streams by how many y virtual wires are deployed on the network. They know how many streams and how much bandwidth the video pump is licensed for. Either management underestimated the demand for VOD, or (very unlikely, IMO) knew how high it would be and didn’t care.

      @humphrmi: The promotion could not have been executed without the knowledge of the very capable technical people who maintain VOD at TWC. Stuff needs to be changed in the VOD control software to do promotional pricing. Non-technical management never plays with it.

      • humphrmi says:

        @OggJoshua: Uh, well, I was trying to be nice, giving the tech people the benefit of the doubt that someone making the promotion decision didn’t talk to them. But of course, the other situation is that the tech people screwed up after being advised of the demand / requirements of the systems to handle the promotion. Either way, it’s not the mystical “system” that causes the problem. It’s people.

        • OggJoshua says:

          @humphrmi: Those bandwidth requirements you speak of, how were they deduced? People in marketing and management estimated how much demand the promotion would produce. Is an estimate always right on target if it is done by someone competent? Or is there always some uncertainty in the realm of estimation?

          TWC knew the VOD system could handle the estimated demand. But it turned out the estimate was wrong. Occam’s razor tells you that is the case; and I, with my industry experience (see my 11:32 PM comment below) am telling you too.

          • humphrmi says:

            @OggJoshua: I didn’t speak of bandwidth requirements in my comment, but now that you mention it; X^n is a theoretical maximum number of customers:

            – One server might normally handle X customers. Before your live date, push X^10 customer requests in a test environmeent, just to see what happens.

            – If that works out OK, push X^100 just to see what happens.

            – Repeat where X^n equals crazy numbers you’ve never thought about. Naturally report back where n starts to break things.

            – Report back to marketing / management what “n” equals, and what happens when you exceed it.

            – Suggest that they have a back up plan.

            – Prepare your servers for the worst,even though they aren’t, because they think your current server farm is fine.

            – Get blamed because you’re “the system”. Internally, you’re good because you’ve done all your homework and laid our the exact scenarios under which your system fails, which it did, and you were right. Externally, you suck because management thought that your puny P3 servers running W2K could handle all the traffic and no matter what you told them, they were intent on running this promo at the resource levels you had before.

            • OggJoshua says:

              @humphrmi: If you were not speaking of server or network bandwidth requirements, I can’t imagine what requirements you were talking about.

              The stress-testing you describe may be standard practice in web services, but it doesn’t really apply to VOD. Bandwidth systemwide and per service area (geographic area) is discrete and determined. TWC does not have to do any testing to know its system’s limits, except maybe to verify the limits the vendor specified. If they exceed those limits, my company’s machines will stop streaming, and we may stop supporting them. That you think otherwise tells me you don’t know much about VOD operations.

              TWC management is quite smart and well-informed, actually. You can’t get as far as they have in business without accurate information and a realistic perception of that information. Even if you don’t believe me: Considering that VOD outages cost TWC thousands of dollars per hour, why wouldn’t management do everything in its power to prevent them, especially at peak hours? In a for-profit corporation, that kind of loss lights a fire under even the most cynical and lazy bureaucrat you can imagine.

  7. Canino says:

    We totally exceeded the number by 3-times the amount.

    Is their spokesperson a 14-year old girl?

  8. Blueskylaw says:

    1). Restaurant offers all you can eat free fries on Saturday.

    2). Restaurant says sorry, fry machine broken, here’s a coupon good for 1 free fry (expires in one week).

    3). Restaurant has just limited their economic exposure to free fry program.

    4). Profit

    • OggJoshua says:

      @Blueskylaw: You’ve drawn a metaphor to the possible but very unlikely scenario here.

      1. Cable company’s VOD service gets a little more publicity.

      1. Cable company gets a lot more negative publicity, which it hardly needs.

      2. VOD outages give managers heart attacks. Why?
      2.1. Thousands of dollars per hour are lost when VOD is down. Does anyone with an eye on the bottom line want demand for $0.01 content to make it impossible for TWC to serve up $3.95-8.95 content?
      2.2. To restore the revenue stream, hourly employees get overtime pay.
      2.3. To restore the revenue stream, specialized, hard-to-replace salaried employees are worked under intense pressure, on a weekend night. They dislike that.
      2.4. This problem took all night to clean up — believe it. Consider that fact when reading the above three items.

      3. Refunds and coupon programs are also costly in terms of worker-hours.

      • Blueskylaw says:


        That’s why Business Interruption Insurance was invented.

        Business interruption insurance insures against loss or damage to the income or profit of a business due to an interruption in the business.

        A few other types of losses include:

        * “Contingent Business Interruption” coverage — losses suffered from loss/damage to property that prevents a supplier from supplying goods and/or services to you, or that prevents customers from accepting goods and/or services from you. “For example, businesses that sold mementos to WTC visitors, barber shops and delis that served the 50,000 people who worked at the WTC, all would lose a significant portion of their revenues and profits from the wiping out of the WTC,” says Wall.

        * “Services Interruption/Off Premises Power” coverage — losses suffered from loss/damage to the property of any service provider including electrical equipment & systems, fuel, water, gas, feedstock, pulp, liquid gases, sewage, steam, telephone, fiber optic cable, telecommunications, heating, refrigeration and/or air conditioning systems, or utility plants. For example, “this could include spoiled food at restaurants and supermarkets from interruption of power, telemarketers unable to communicate because of the disruption of the phone lines,” says Wall.

        * “Interruption by Civil or Military Authority” coverage: losses suffered when, as a result of loss, damage, or other event, access to your property is restricted by order or action of civil or military authority. “This would include loss suffered by residents and businesses abutting the WTC area where access was prevented for a week or more by the FBI and New York City Police.”

        * “Ingress/Egress” coverage — losses suffered when, as a result of loss, damage or other event, entry to or exit from your property is impaired. This can include hotel and motel room cancellations, or the cancellation of Broadway shows due to of the closure of the bridges, tunnels and airports that people need to reach New York City.

        • OggJoshua says:

          @Blueskylaw: None of the coverages you cited compensates TWC for computer crashes or network outages that aren’t due to physical destruction of infrastructure, such as this weekend’s incident. Does such coverage exist? Insuring unaudited software, hardware and networks sounds like an extremely bad risk for an insurer, especially considering how often outages happen in the VOD world.

          And if insurance covers it, and it’s no big deal, why is it that cable companies are so dang motivated to restore VOD service when it goes out? My colleagues at TWC and I have to work hours of overtime when this stuff happens.

          If insurance covers it, why are we never asked to submit anything like evidence for an incident report for the insurance company?

          • Blueskylaw says:


            The policy can be specifically endorsed to provide coverage for this specific situation. Similarly, coverage for these and other types of losses are generally not automatic but have to be negotiated and bought, sometimes at an additional premium cost.

            You can get insurance for ANYTHING you want. (see below)

            Alien abduction insurance is an insurance policy issued against alien abduction. A policy normally costs around $150 per $1.5 million in coverage as of 1998. Policy offerings vary from $10,000 to $10 million. Some companies offer policies for alien pregnancy, alien examinations and death caused by aliens.
            The very first company to offer UFO abduction insurance was the St. Lawrence Agency in Altamonte Springs, Florida. The company has paid out at least two claims. The company pays the claimant $1 per year until their death or for 1 million years, whichever comes first. Over 20,000 people have purchased the insurance.

            Not saying they had insurance, just throwing out a reason why they might not care if they have losses.

            As for the cable company getting a lot more negative publicity which it hardly needs:

            Oil/gas companies try to spin a positive image about themselves, but they don’t care because you need gas and they rake in record profits.

            Ticketmaster tries to spin a positive image about themselves, but they don’t care because they still sell their tickets at scalpers prices.

            Cable companies try to spin a positive image about themselves, but they don’t care. (see above reasons)

            • OggJoshua says:

              @Blueskylaw: Seems like alien abduction coverage is an extremely smart risk for an insurance company to take. My diabetic, obese, elderly dad is not such a good risk; insurance is not available for his health care costs. So, clearly, insurance is not available for absolutely anything when it entails taking a bad risk.

              Oil is a commodity everyone will buy no matter what. Ticketmaster has no competition. Neither is the case for cable. You’re right that they are strong enough to absorb a lot of bad publicity, but wrong that they’re strong enough to be blase about it.

              Given all that, and given TWC’s intense interest in restoring VOD service when it crashes — something I experience first-hand all the time — your insurance fraud theory is not very plausible.

  9. SpiderPaintingDollars says:

    If it was Comcast it would have read “…For any inconvenience customers caused for other customers, we will raise the bill by $153” Atleast they owned up to it.

  10. IT-Chick says:

    But are they taking it seriously?