Replay Users Get Reprieve

Today was to be the end of ReplayTV. Users were notified weeks ago that the electronic programming guide service (epg) would be discontinued on 31 July. “After this date, owners of ReplayTV DVR units will still be able to manually record analog TV programs, but will not have the benefit of access to the interactive program guide,” said the announcement. Replay users were outraged. Complaints to DNNA met with little comfort. Pansonic which sold Showstoppers using Replay technology said little except the usual “thanks for your inquiry and we are looking into the matter” statements. Some wrote letters to state attorney generals hoping for some intercession.

In the meantime the scramble went forth to replace DNNA service. Tech savvy folks already had a way but it required setting up PC server to make it work. For those who neither had the time, the money, or used a Mac that was not a option. So some of those folks got together to put together a service for the rest of us, a dial-up service so that Replay users could dial-up and update the epg. It was by no means easy to do. Servers had to be made ready and software configured. Then getting a provider of the tv schedules had to be set up. The initial fee would be $7.00 per month, per model (some people have more than one Replay unit in their homes). Not a bad price to continue the service.

As the deadline drew near, the Replay board at AVS Forum was busy with people posting info and asking questions. Likewise at the other forum, Planet Replay. Then out of the blue came the announcement on Friday (29 Jul):

After the announced shutdown of the ReplayTV programming guide service, we have had many positive, enthusiastic comments about the ReplayTV DVR products and services. In light of this response, ReplayTV and its parent company Digital Networks North America, Inc. have decided to continue the electronic programming guide service pursuant to the terms of your service activation agreement. We thank you very much for all of your support and enthusiasm over the many years these products have been sold.

Suddenly everything ground to a halt when that message appeared on units updated that day. Everyone was stunned. It was so sudden that the customer service people had no idea it had happened. It was confirmed and everyone stood back. Everyone was pleased but questions lingered. Why did DNNA back off? Speculation was rampant and so far little facts are known. Panasonic might have been angry since they were not notified and nothing offered to replace the service. And it is possible someone either at the state or federal level said exactly the same thing.

And that was the problem right from the start. DNNA offered nothing to replace the the discontinued service. Once the guide ran out (around 7 Aug), you were on your own. With no ability to set the clock and no epg, manual recording was going to be a chore. You would have to manually hit record and stop when done. So much for recording when your are sleeping or at work Tivo offered special deals to Replay users but many have no desire to switch. Lifetime users were even more out in the cold than monthly users. When lifetime users bought those units (at a premium), many assumed they were buying for the lifetime of the unit or service. Lawyers for DNNA argue that the actual lifetime service is one year under California law.

Many though are skeptical and even hostile to DNNA. Some have already transitioned away from DNNA using the Internet option and not likely to return. The message from DNNA also said the following:

As we have said previously, the analog programming that the ReplayTV units are capable of recording is in fact likely to be converted to digital signals in the very near future at which point the ReplayTV units will no longer be able to record such programming.

This is misleading. Since the conversion to digital, all Replay units get cable using a cable box. The cable box provides the conversion necessary for them. My television has a digital tuner but cannot unscramble the programming from my cable company. Hence the cable box (which my cable service provides for free). So this statement is not accurate except that way down the road the need for cable boxes will diminish as computers are integrated with television (meaning the computers will have dvr capacity in them).

We encourage our users to consider digital video recorders that have this digital recording capability as well as additional technological advances which are not a part of the ReplayTV units (all of which were end of lifed by 2006).

This is illuminating and the line most Replay users in the forums focused on. It tells them DNNA wants them to go elsewhere. Just go. Okay we will provide you with a service but we would prefer that you leave.  Like the hotel manager said to Ryan O’Neill’s character in the movie What’s Up Doc? about when he should check out, the manager (played by John Hillerman) said yesterday. The last line told lifetime service people that they would be paying a fee for the epg service. The good news is that Replay users have gotten a reprieve.

For how long is the next question. I speculate six months to a year at most. ReplayTV units are no longer being manufactured but there are units still being sold but by now the inventory is getting low. Since ReplayTV is no longer marketed, there is a finite number using them right now. In short, a no growth sector. So DNNA sees little reason to continue paying the costs associated with maintaining the epg for little profit. They have to pay for the digital schedule, tech and customer support, and other costs associated with the service. So for them, there is no incentive to keep it going.

The other good news is that the alternative dial-up service that was in beta testing (called Laho meaning Last Hope) can be further refined. DNNA ought to work with those at Laho so that dial-up users could migrate there in that period of time. They could also offer some deals with Tivo if people want to go there (or coupons for free dvr service from the local cable company). In other words, offer something tangible other than shutting off the service and telling everyone to push manual record. To sum up DNNA can:

(1) Work with LaHo to create a viable, working alternative dial-up for ReplayTv users;

(2) Offer deals with other dvr units (Tivo, Moxie);

(3) Offer coupons for free rental of cable company dvr’s.

Also, as a last option, consider some sort of buy back for recycling of parts. Some may want to junk their units and those parts (and the metal) have value.

The ball is in your court DNNA. If you are determined to phase out the service, do it smartly.

One thought on “Replay Users Get Reprieve”

  1. Good post. One amplification — manual recording on my units can be timed to start/stop on a particular channel, but it depends on the internal clock being accurate — not being able to dial/ping out for a time reset would have likely caused the clock to wander over time. It won’t carry over the program name even if the Program Guide is there and up-to-date, which makes find one out of many on the disk a pain. It was also never clear how the units would remember their channel lineup once the Guide went away.

    My guess as to why DNNA, D&M, Panasonic and DirectTV reversed on this (thank you, btw!) as pressure from more users than expected writing their respective Attorneys General and asking what the meaning of “Lifetime” was. It was a visible, easily publicized and understood issue that a big-pockets corporation like DirecTV didn’t wish bad press about — and since they’re Cal-fornia-based and there’s a new AG here, she’s known for her especially nasty and juvenile disposition. Add 56 other states and that’s a lot of expensive lawyering to pay for.

    I also suspect, as you reference, that bid ol’ Panasonic, which has a long-built and good reputation didn’t want the bad press and was probably offended that their customers were getting hosed. They’re a huge company and it wouldn’t surprise me if they’re ponying up some dough to keep the Guide running.

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