Time Warner Cable’s ‘Look Back’ Is a Step Back From DVR

Time Warner Cable (s TWX) is introducing a new “Look Back” feature to its subscribers, enabling them to go back and watch some programming within the first three days it aired. But the new feature, which doesn’t require a customer to have a DVR, also won’t let customers fast forward through commercials.

The cable provider’s new Look Back feature premieres tomorrow, when it will be rolled out to customers in New York, New England, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin, and parts of Texas. But there are a number of limitations to the new feature: For one thing, it only works with 48 of Time Warner’s channels, only half of which are in HD. CNET reports that supported networks include Disney’s (s DIS) channels ABC and Disney, NBC Universal’s (s GE) NBC and SyFy and Discovery’s (s DISCA) TLC and Discovery Channel.

For those of you wondering how it works: Subscribers can access that content from by choosing their enhanced menu from the program guide, choosing “Look Back,” the day they want to view and finally, the programming that they missed or want to watch again. Programs are available for 72 hours after they air, at which point they disappear. According to Jeff Simmermon, Time Warner Cable’s director of digital communications, programming from supported channels is stored at the local headend, along with VOD content.

Subscribers don’t need to have a DVR to use Look Back — they do need a digital set-top box — and in fact, it’s quite possible that if Look Back catches on it could replace the DVR for some users. There’s only one problem, though: You can’t fast forward a program you’re watching in Look Back. Which is to say, Time Warner Cable subscribers using Look Back instead of a DVR will be stuck watching ads.

For many users, that could make the convenience of Look Back a non-starter, and there are plenty of users that would rather pay a monthly fee for a DVR than to sit through eight minutes of commercials for every half-hour show. Nevertheless, Time Warner Cable seems pretty jazzed about the feature, saying it was the top requested feature among surveyed subscribers.

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