Cable companies may hate TiVo, but at least they've come to accept that digital-video recorders are here to stay. Or have they? Time Warner Cable is introducing a DVR-like service called Look Back that lets viewers time-shift shows but doesn't let them fast-forward through the ads. (Time Warner Cable is a sister company of my employer, Time Inc.).
From a viewing-experience point of view, Look Back is a step backwards compared to a full-throttled DVR like TiVo. You can only watch shows from earlier the same day and you are forced to watch the ads. The whole point of DVRs is that they allow you to watch shows when you want to watch them, which might include catching up on a whole week's worth of The Daily Show at 3 AM on a Saturday. Being limited to one day's worth of TV sort of defeats the purpose.
And don't underestimate the appeal of being able to skip through the ads. It makes the TV-viewing experience both more enjoyable and more efficient (you can watch more actual TV when you strip out the ads).
So what are the folks at Time Warner Cable smoking? They are betting that people will put up with their hobbled, networked version of a DVR because it will be free. (TiVo, in contrast, charges an extra $13 to $17 a month for its service). It's amazing what people will put up with if they think they are getting something for free.
But this is a stop-gap measure at best. If the cable companies really want to counter the threat of TiVo, they are going to have to come up with a service that is better than TiVo. Not one that is worse, but free.