Tinkering with program airtimes leads to problems with DVR recordings

Setting a DVR to record all of Oprah poses a challenge.

Associated Press

Setting a DVR to record all of Oprah poses a challenge.

Once a day, Oprah Winfrey snarked off my wife.

The problem began when she sat down and cued up our digital video recording of Oprah, only to find the first four minutes of Winfrey's show missing.

Every weekday. Like clockwork.

Which led my wife — and, eventually, her beleaguered TV critic husband — to wonder why. If my wife tells the DVR to record Oprah every day, and the show starts at 3:56 p.m. every day, why does the recording start four minutes late, every day?

At a time when information is available from across the globe with the click of a mouse button, why couldn't our Bright House DVR or TiVo get this right?

Finding that answer led me on a quest ranging from technicians at the cable company to the top programming guys at CBS. I eventually probed similar problems with recording shows such as NBC's Heroes and CBS's Late Show with David Letterman and Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.

The short answer is, sometimes nobody notices something is wrong. Even when it's very, very wrong.

Figuring out the Oprah problem required calling a Bright House spokesman, who assured me I could just tell my DVR to start a few minutes early.

"But why should I have to do that when the show starts at 3:56 p.m. every day?" I whined, wary of any extra effort on my end.

After some persistence, I talked to a Bright House technician, who sent me to Tribune Media Services, the company that provides TV scheduling information for cable systems, newspapers, Web sites and TiVo units across the country. (Tribune Media Services is not connected to the Tampa Tribune.)

After a few weeks of back and forth, we discovered the problem. WFLA hadn't told Tribune they actually aired Oprah at 3:56 p.m.

WFLA general manager Mike Pumo said the station corrected the problem when it changed the system used to schedule airtimes, without providing specifics. Pumo also couldn't say why the station aired 0prah at 3:56 p.m. for so long — at least 10 years — in the first place.

One down, two more head-scratchers to go.

While researching the Oprah incident, I noticed other shows didn't record well. Heroes, for example, cut off one minute early — usually just as a climatic plot point was revealed.

If you record the Late Show with David Letterman, the recording ends 28 seconds before the show does, which means you often miss the last joke.

The NBC problem was simple; the network didn't tell Tribune when they extended the running time of Heroes by one minute. So viewers across the country had to tell their DVRs to record one minute longer or record the show that came after — forcing me to sit through way too many episodes of My Own Worst Enemy.

But CBS is where things got interesting. Turns out, the Late Show with David Letterman has been airing 28 seconds longer than the already odd scheduled time — 11:35 p.m. to 12:37 a.m. — for as long as 10 years.

According to a CBS executive, the extra 28 seconds may have been tacked on to sneak in an extra commercial, back in the days before DVRs. But now that the show continues 28 seconds past its scheduled end, it messes with fans like me, who like to record the show and watch it when time allows.

Issues like this will only grow as more households get DVRs. A recent study from Leichtman Research Group indicated 27 percent of U.S. household own DVRs; another study found 63 percent of homes earning $100,000 or more annually have them.

Networks often air shows at odd times — sometimes to squeeze in more commercials, sometimes to make it harder for you to watch the competition. But if they don't keep the scheduling companies aware of the changes, you may not find out until that very special episode of Grey's Anatomy cuts off two minutes early.

If you have a DVR, you can thank me for getting your Oprah and Heroes times adjusted correctly. CBS doesn't seem inclined to change what it's doing in late night, and because DVRs can only schedule on the minute, viewers will always lose a piece of Letterman or gain a piece of Ferguson's show until the shows themselves are rescheduled.

Of course, solving one problem sometimes creates another: Now my DVR stops recording Winfrey's hourlong show after 58 minutes.

For now, looks like my wife will just have to survive on two minutes less Oprah.

Eric Deggans can be reached at deggans@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8521.

Tinkering with program airtimes leads to problems with DVR recordings 02/21/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 21, 2009 3:31am]

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