Is A Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy Attacking My Time Warner DVR?

Micah has an unusual problem with Time Warner Cable. He tells Consumerist that his DVR simply refuses to record two daily programs that he likes to watch. Those programs? Countdown with Keith Olbermann and The Rachel Maddow Show. A Time Warner technician could find no problems with the DVR itself.

I’m a Time-Warner Cable subscriber in Los Angeles, CA. I have a high-definition DVR provided by TW Cable, and have series recordings set for both Countdown with Keith Olbermann and The Rachel Maddow Show. About a week ago, my cable box abruptly stopped recording episodes of either show. Every other show on MSNBC records just fine. Every other show at the same time on any other channel records just fine. But although I can create a series recording for Keith or Rachel, the box simply refuses to record ANY episode on either the high-def or the standard definition MSNBC channels.

After doing extensive testing with other channels, other times, deleting everything off my DVR, eliminating all series recordings, resetting the cable box, etc., I decided that it was just a problem with my particular cable box. So I called TW Cable and they sent out a technician, we replaced the cable box, and tried to set up a series recording for Countdown and Maddow and… the same thing. The brand new cable box wouldn’t record Coundown or Maddow, either. We swapped out a different, third box. No dice. The fourth box refused to save series recording episodes of Olbermann & Maddow as well. I called a friend nearby and asked him to replicate the problem, and his TW Cable box also refused to tape series recordings of Olbermann & Maddow.

To clarify: if I hand-set both shows to record every day, then they record just fine (but that negates the whole point of a series recording). But for SOME reason, TW Cable Boxes will NOT record either show if you set a series recording. And oddly, it’s ONLY these two shows. The technician said the only thing he could think of was that “someone at the company” had somehow locked out those two programs.

My cablebox is a Motorola, model DCT 3416, firmware version 16.76, software version 78.44 – A28p0-2.0908.r-4

I figure your readership/viewership can check further on this. I can’t imagine it’s a problem limited to only MY account, but I don’t have a lot of friends in my section of town with TWC who can check this out. The people who answer the phones at TWC are NOT equipped to handle these kinds of highly technical questions. If some right-wing software tech at TWCable has truly locked all of the company’s DVRs from recording Olbermann & Maddow, then someone much more powerful than anyone I can get on the phone is going to have to fix this.

Another reader reported a similar problem with recording The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, but hadn’t yet researched the problem to the extent that Micah has. So, we ask you, Consumerists: have you run across the same problem with any daily news/opinion program of any political point of view?


Edit Your Comment

  1. SG-Cleve says:

    There are some channels on my U-Verse DVR that won’t record, but *they display a note* saying that they have been locked out from recording by the channel owner.

    • Supes says:

      Jeez I’ve never encountered that but I hope it doesn’t become a trend… or else it’ll definitely be time to ditch the DVR.

      • Supes says:

        And for that matter, it’d be time to cut cable totally, since I’m not usually home when these shows are broadcast anyway.

        (come’on Consumerist we need an edit button!)

    • Rocket says:

      Go old school. Record your shows with a VCR. No DRM :P

      • TooManyHobbies says:

        Actually VCRs do have DRM. It’s called MacroVision and most cable boxes still put it in to the analog signal going out of the box, so you can’t really record the signal.

        But the OP can already record by setting a daily schedule, which is exactly the same thing that a VCR would do, so even if it would work it wouldn’t be any better than what he can already do.

    • leprechaunshawn says:

      What channels are those?

    • bethshanin says:

      I had an issue like this once with Southpark ComCent on Cox. No matter what day or time, HD or SD, it would not record the show, but it always said “restricted from recording”.

      It went away after a few months.

  2. katstermonster says:

    Important detail left out: will it do other series recordings on MSNBC? Yes, the OP said these are the only two shows it won’t tape, but he doesn’t specifically say whether he tested other MSNBC shows.

    Either way, this is totally bizarre.

    • Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

      This is kind of what I was thinking, after seeing SG-Cleve’s post. If MSNBC has their channel(s) blocked from being able to be DVR recorded, then I’m afraid the OP is S.o.L.

      But then the OP also said he can set the episodes to record ‘manually’, so I’m not sure either way.

    • nbs2 says:

      “Every other show on MSNBC records just fine.”


      My thought was that MSNBC is trying to restrict DVRing those two shows.

      • katstermonster says:

        Oh! My bad. :) It’s clearly too early.

      • Propagandist says:

        Hi, OP here. No, this is NOT an MSNBC issue. All other shows series-record just fine on MSNBC, and when I contacted MSNBC about the issue, they said they don’t restrict DVR recording (that would cost them viewers & money… commercials are sold for live-viewers+3-day DVR viewing these days).

        • jake.valentine says:

          I have TWC as well and I have the same problem, but with different shows. I think their DVR software is just written with bad code.

  3. Nighthawke says:

    Some movies, programs and events come with a flag that instructs the DVR not to record this show due to trumped up legal issues regarding copyright and DMCA. This is the same for almost any DVR on the market. Even my old Series 2 TiVo catches flags once in a while irritating me to no end.

    • Razor512 says:

      the only problem with that is if they are flagged, a manual recording will not work either.

    • terribletony says:

      And this is part of the reason I no longer have cable television, no less a DVR. Anymore, it seems the only use for technology is to make it harder for consumers to actually watch or listen to the stuff they pay for, rather than deliver a better service.

    • Rena says:

      I bet they don’t mention this in the advertising and sales pitches though.

  4. EllenRose says:

    Sounds like the machines are gaining intelligence.

    • cromartie says:

      Unfortunate that you aren’t, though.

      • EllenRose says:

        My, my. The herd here frequently slanders conservatives, in general and by name. I make a mild tweak at television, and you call me stupid.

        • misterfweem says:

          Better get used to it. I do have to agree with you, though, but only if the DVR refused to record Glenn Beck as well.

          Independent voter
          Doesn’t listen to any talking heads
          Well, to the talking heads inside my own head, yes
          Kenneth, what’s the frequency?

      • NashuaConsumerist says:

        Little harsh, don’t you think?

      • nova3930 says:

        He’s right. Olbermann was a terrible sportscaster so it amazes me that he went beyond that. I can remember watching baseball games on mute because he was so terrible….

    • paulthegeek says:

      Thank you for contributing nothing to this discussion. Actually, less than nothing since all you did was troll. Your family must be so proud.

  5. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    I haven’t had anything I wanted to record get denied, but since I moved to a fake-cable area (that is, they just set up a community dish and a bank of decoders and multiplexers) they introduce a 1 minute lag in my video stream. Meaning any time two programs I like bump up against each other without commercial padding, or any network’s clock is off by just a little bit, Tivo slices it off.

    It would be GREAT if I could just manually add a minute to the Tivo clock to get it lined up, but, alas.

    I want a Myth box. :'(

    • MitchV says:

      Just add a minute or two to your TiVo recordings. I do that with some of my season passes because they never seem to start/end at just the right time.

      • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

        Tried it… but it doesn’t work on suggestions (the killer feature of a Tivo, IMHO) and aggressive padding winds up just cutting into other passes and causes collisions. Missing the last minute is almost as bad as missing the first minute.

        And while I’m being all negative, screw you Spike TV for listing a program I might like and then showing Hilarious Police Car Chases Volume #59321. The switcheroo always seems to wind up recording that stupid stuff.

        • Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

          Yeeeah Spike did that to me a few years ago. They were supposed to be showing the Bond-Movie Marathon on Christmas Day (I don’t get the connection either, so don’t ask) and instead had an EIGHT-HOUR-LONG stint of V.I.P. playing.

          UGH. I’ve learned not to trust Spike’s listing At All.

  6. Raekwon says:

    Mine won’t ever let me tape Fringe. I set it up it says it is set then right before it gives an error message and won’t tape it.

  7. Gravitational Eddy says:

    There’s that broadcast software switch flag everyone was so hyped about a few years back…
    from Wikipedia:

    Since April 15, 2008, pay-per-view movies on cable and satellite television have been flagged so that recordings cannot stay on digital video recorders or other related devices sold or leased to you from your cable or satellite provider for more than 24 hours after the movie begins. The change was a result of negotiations between the major movie studios and the PPV providers. Movies recorded before April 15 may still be available from the device. This does not affect customers who own their own DVRs not provided by the cable or satellite provider, although it may be difficult and require manual intervention to record PPV content on these devices. However with the natural progression of cable providers to provide movies on their video on demand services and discontinue pay-per-view movie channels, this issue should fade in the next few years.

    Maybe the Wiki needs updating. Kinda looks like it’s goin on now….

  8. Doubts42 says:

    Sounds like he should write a thank you letter to Time Warner.

  9. Sunflower1970 says:

    My TWC box is a Scientific America box. I did have a problem with it just deciding it no longer liked to record Stargate Universe, Community, The Office, 30 Rock, Outsourced and Ghosthunters. I had these series all set up and working perfectly for months, yet two weeks ago it stopped recording them. I had to reset up each series to record. I have no idea what would have stopped it from recording, either. I didn’t change any settings. I’ve watched every night to make sure the recording goes off. So far it’s working again. Amusingly, I had at one time set up Hoarders to record each week, but decided to not record it any more. Now, I can’t get my DVR to STOP recording it. I’ve deleted the series, and everything I can think of, but my box seems to just like Hoarders. *sigh*

    I’ve recorded Daily Show, Maddow & Olbernann, but I’ve never set them up to record as a series. I’ll have to test it out to see what happens.

    But, I do have a thought. I did have a show I recorded that came on at 1:00 am (Bob and Tom) which runs just about every day. I had to go through, choose each day set it up as a series, and then it would record all shows. It may that TWC’s software only sees a series as happening once a week? I really didn’t think much about it at the time, but now that I’m typing it out, maybe it’s a similar situation…

    • lettucefactory says:

      Your DVR is hoarding Hoarders episodes.

    • selkie says:

      Our Directv DVR decided to randomly cancel our season pass to Community as well.

    • diagoro says:

      ‘One’ major issue Time Warner seems to have is a plethora of ancient technology. I had them for one month during the last World Cup. The dh dvr they gave me had only a few hours of hd recording space (under 20) and designed in 2005. Tech wise, that’s pretty damn old, especially considering DirecTv and others have several new models released every year.

      TW said they had a ‘newer’ model that included up to 60 hours of hd space, yet it “wasn’t available in my area”….go figure. Maybe Beverly Hills has them

  10. naosuke says:

    Oh no! they’re on to us! Abort the mission! I repeat: Abort the mission!

  11. pplrppl says:

    With the Daily show my issue was the channel guide listing didn’t contain the word NEW for one weeks worth of shows and the DVR I use decides if it is “first run” or not based on the listing containing the word NEW.

    Maybe the OP is running into an issue with “first run” options?

    • Propagandist says:

      No, that was the first thing I thought of… my old DVR wouldn’t distinguish between first-run and repeats of shows like Olbermann or The Soup, so I would wind up with 8 hours of them on my DVR, so I quickly learned all the ins-and-outs of “Record All Episodes” and “Save Only 2 Episodes” and all the other series-recording choices. The TWC DVRs won’t record ANY episodes of only these two shows, on either the low-def or high-def channels, even when it’s set to “save all episodes” and “Record all episodes, new and repeats.” The TWC technician also tried setting every different possible series recording option on all FOUR DVRs that he had on the truck. This is not a user error problem.

  12. Commenter24 says:

    Likely either a meta-date issue (DVR simply doesn’t think the shows are on, maybe the title, etc. in the meta data that the DVR reads is FUBAR) or a broadcast flag issue.

  13. iggy21 says:

    Had the same problem with comcast and the show ’24’. Only happened with series recording, and only on that show.

  14. B says:

    My guess would be the episodes are incorrectly flagged as “repeats” and the DVR is set to only record first-run. my DVR has the opposite problem with the Daily Show/Colbert Report. It records the show, then the repeats that Comedy Central uses to fill up their programming block.

  15. xipander says:

    How are you setting the series recordings? Only new episodes? It flags the new episodes off the info where it says “New”, “Rerun”, etc… If it doesn’t specifically say “New” for new episode, the series recording won’t record it if it’s set on only new episodes.

    At least that’s how it does it on mine anyway… and I see some episodes occasionally that are New that just aren’t marked new or aren’t marked at all and series recording won’t pick it up but a manual record will.

  16. smartmuffin says:

    The suggestion that anyone would watch Rachel Maddow voluntarily is crashing the DVR’s logic circuits. Like a robot in a debate with Captain Kirk.

  17. DovS says:

    A useful question would be: Is there anyone else using a TWC DVR who has successfully used the series recording feature for Olbermann and Maddow’s shows, especially anyone in the LA area?

  18. Bigbadbull says:

    It has to do wiht how the shows are listed…
    If the show is listed as a “NEW” epi it will record, If it has no episode info such as epi Number or it’s flagged as New it won’t record it. I had one and the same thing would happen with Mythbusters and Southpark. If you told the recorder to record ALL episodes of a show you would get the new episodes along with all the reruns.
    This even happens with my 722i Dish reviver now, but to a much less degree.
    So you can record All, manually record one for time, get none…untill they change how the show is written up in scheduling.

    • Propagandist says:

      See the above comment, but no, again, this is not me incorrectly flagging which episodes to record… even when set to record ALL episodes, new and repeats and duplicates, it won’t record a single episode of these two shows. The TW Cable technician also couldn’t set it to record, and I’m assuming that he does this every day all day long and knows how it’s done.

  19. Tristan Smith says:

    Since it’ll record if you set it every day my guess is that the show isn’t properly flagged as a new episode or the dvr is not reading the flag correctly. It sould also be that they start at a slightly different time or possible overlap with something else. Ive had a few shows not record because they started at like 9:01-9:31 and something else was recording on another channel.

    • Propagandist says:

      I thought of that possibility, but it wouldn’t record even after I deleted all other recording programming from the DVR. Plus, the 3 replacement boxes also wouldn’t record either show, and they had NOTHING in the DVR schedule to conflict with these shows. This is not a user error problem.

  20. ma1234 says:

    A democrat who can afford cable? Odd.

  21. dush says:

    It was funny watching maddow sputter about the points jon stewart was trying to make in his interview.

  22. Press1forDialTone says:

    To answer the question:

    Is A Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy Attacking My Time Warner DVR?

    The answer is yes. What better way than to restrict views that conflict with
    the owners of the cable network?

    Just don’t allow them to be recorded as a series and make all recordings
    manually initiated.

    Yes, my good children, the Republican right is trying everything just
    short of Second Amendment remedies, but they’ll get there.

  23. Willy_HSV says:

    It could be doing what our DVR was doing for about a month on Knology, it would record Glenn Beck fine, but when you play it back, the audio was 10 seconds out of sync from the video. Other shows on Fox News would record and playback fine, it was just Glenn that would be out of sync. We could watch the broadcast live, while it was recording, and it was fine, but then after the show, we’d go back and watch the recording and it would be out of sync. Then last week, just as mysteriously as it began… it had stopped.

    • valued_customer says:

      Having his vocal cords 10 seconds out of sync with his brain is the only possible way for Glenn Beck to make any sense. ;)

  24. ThomFabian says:

    Had a TWC DVR a few years ago that did the same thing with some random shows (I seem to remember The Soup being among them).

    It has nothing to do with the broadcast flag as the show could be recorded, but the series recording functionality would just break for certain shows. It happened whether the show was marked new (or whether I told it to record all shows), and had to do with the the way the show was titled and the metadata on the show. The solution was fairly simple, set up a recurring recording at the time of the show. Its annoying, but for a show like Olberman tha tcomes on at the same time every night (I believe) then it is in effect the exact same thing.

    I find it truly hilarious that he (or the tech) really believe that some nefarious plot is afoot to deprive him of recording his show.

  25. brianary says:
  26. sasquatch28 says:

    I don’t know how people can watch those biased shows. I prefer to get my news by someone not telling me how I should feel about a particular issue.

    • paulthegeek says:

      Since they’re not news and never claimed to be, anybody who DOES get their “news” from those shows is an idiot. I have no problem with news & opinion existing on the same network, as long as they are clearly delineated. Mind you, some networks do this better than others.

  27. MrChrisCarey says:

    I used to be a Time Warner Cable customer in Los Angeles. I had similar trouble attempting to set a series recording for Countdown on MSNBC on the same exact model Motorola dvr. That was amongst the least of the problems, considering the workaround mentioned by the op.

    I experienced far too many bugs in the operating system of TWC’s Motorola dvr to mention here in the comments. Most of my problems are detailed in this wikibooks page:

    The first time I reported the problems to the frontline CSR was in 2007. A tech was sent out that did nothing other than swap out both of my Motorola DCT-3416 dvrs for two new DCT-3415 dvrs. Needless to say, all of the bugs in the on-screen-guide operating system were still there.

    Two of my neighbors were also having the same problems with their TWC-provided Motorola dvrs. Obviously, the problem is nothing an individual tech can take fix. Every TWC customer with this Motorola dvr experiences these problems.

    After months of tolerating the bugs and problems, I escalated the problem to TWC’s Executive Customer Service during summer 2008. Another tech was sent to my home that sat down and took detailed notes as I demonstrated all of the various problems.

    When I heard back from the ECS rep, I was told that these problems exist on TWC’s end, and they may be fixed by the end of 2009, but no firm date was offered.

    TWC has a $10 dvr service fee on the monthly bill. The ECS rep said that this fee would be taken off of my bill for the next 12 months. My request to be retroactively refunded as well was turned down.

    In the Spring of 2009, the bugs and problems were still there. I still had several months of the “free dvr service”, but I jumped ship to Dish Network. A year and a half later and TWC still has the same buggy dvr in Los Angeles.

  28. Stina says:

    I’m in Austin, TX and have had issues with rolling channel black outs and time warner. It’s always the same shows at the same times and won’t record them either. Usually stuff like Rachel maddow or the daily show or even things like The Walking Dead. It’s always my HD channels and I can usually pick them up on the regular channels. Time warner said replace the box and we have done so TWICE now so it’s not a box issue.

    It’s really frustrating because whatever it is it targets specific shows at specific times. My husband and I are concerned TW is capping us because we use their cable and internet services heavily. we record a lot of shows and regularly stream, download and play online games and our services have been intermittent for the last two years. we’ve had several techs out and still they can’t find a problem.

    There’s something fishy with this for sure.

    • Sunflower1970 says:

      I’m in Austin, and haven’t experienced this myself, but the people I dog/house sit do have some oddities with their TWC account. Watching Fox Sports SW HD will blink in & out. But, any other HD channel does NOT do this. Just Fox Sports. Our own HD box doesn’t have any problems with this station, or any other station.

      I know that TWC, for a couple of weeks back in September or so had trouble with the HD for NBC and 30 Rock. They had to switch to the SD feed and play it on the HD channel. It was just that one show, twice. All other shows we record were fine on NBC on the same night.

  29. DanGarion says:

    I’ll test at my home and see if the same issue is happening in Orange County. As for the OP, expect an email from TWC to gather more information.

  30. DanGarion says:

    Ok I’ve got clarification why this may be happening (took some emails back and forth with a couple different people)

    The programmer sends the show data to the guide company that provides the guide to TWC. The programmer has chosen to set the TV show to appear as a new show on every occurrence. This means the cable box is unable to recognize the show as a series. Since TWC has no control of the guide data it’s something that cannot be fixed on their end. This is a broadcaster issue.

  31. Ixnayer says:

    Maybe your DVR doesn’t believe that you are one of the 8 people who watch that network.

  32. AgitatedDot says:

    If you have multiple series recording setup, the series with lower number in the list will have priority over the ones down the list in case of an overlap. So shows 1 and 3 will be recorded and show 4 will not if they are running at the same time or if there is any overlap.

  33. jake.valentine says:

    I have Timer Warner Cable (for the moment) and my DVR refuses to record a couple tv shows. I triple checked everything to look for conflicts, but my DVR is only half full and there are not any other shows scheduled to record at the same time. Their DVR software just doesn’t work reliably. Thats not unlike their internet service to my home. It also stops working for various periods of time throughout the day.

  34. Sunflower1970 says:

    I’m in Austin, TX with a Scientific America HDDVR box. I tested this over the weekend and I cannot set up a series recording with Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbernann on either HD or Standard, either. On Rachel Maddow I was able to get it to set up a recording for two days, but it would not take the rest of the days. I tried only allowing NEW shows, then every show, so there is something weird with how the data is picked up by TWC’s schedule software.

  35. DanGarion says:

    I attempted to contact the writer of this article for assistance but never heard a response back.

  36. clarkbarr says:

    I’m in Los Angeles and I (sadly) still have Time Warner. The day before Thanksgiving they incorrectly disconnected me. I come home on Wednesday night and I have no broadband or cable. I call them, the first line technician was totally incompetent, I asked for a supervisor. The supervisor assured me that a technician would come to check the line on Thursday. I reminded him that Thursday was Thanksgiving Day. Yet, the Supervisor assured me I would receive a call. So I stayed home Thanksgiving Day, golly gosh my phone rang at 8 AM and it indicated a call from TIme Warner. Pick up the phone and the line is dead. Four more times during the day, same thing. Phone rings, I answer and dead silence is on the other side. Finally, at 5PM I get a call with a recording saying a repair technician will pay a visit on Friday morning between 9 and 1. Sure enough, the technician came, reconnected my service and said that somebody else disconnected me by mistake.

    This is the second time that has happened to me.

    Then, last Wednesday, the broadband goes down. Finally came up on Thursday morning. More apologies when I call customer service…

    And I have had problems with my digital box too. I record movies and, yes MSNBC, go to play them back and the box is blank. No recordings. Have had 3 boxes swapped and sometimes the box records, other times after one play, the recording automatically erases after the first play.

    The only saving grace is that Direct TV is wiring my apartment building. When they finish, I WILL have a serious talk about switching my service…

  37. Rena says:

    Well, I have yet to run into such problems with my bittorrent client.