TiVo, Macrovision, And The Stealth Broadcast Flag


Why wait for Congress to do your dirty work when the content owners can recruit Macrovision to backdoor broadcast flag-like functionality without government bureaucracy and public scrutiny? While these restrictions aren’t new (or unique to TiVo), there still appears to be challenges in properly classifying content on TiVo units. I can envision current releases on HBO being flagged, but doubt this nearly 40-year old film was intended to be tagged. In fact, I believe Macrovision is only permitted to mark PPV and DVD content with copy/viewing limitations. TiVo, if you want to follow-up with this likely transmission glitch: John Campos, who provided these photos, was recording the Fox Movie Channel via Comcast in Seattle.

Macrovision copy protection rules include:

  • Copy Never – This content is not allowed to be recorded by a TiVo DVR.
  • 7 Day Unlimited – These programs can be recorded and viewed as many times as you like within 7 days of their original recording date
  • 7 Day / 24 Hours – These programs can be stored for up to 7 days but once you begin watching the show, you must complete viewing within 24 hours.


16 thoughts on “TiVo, Macrovision, And The Stealth Broadcast Flag”

  1. I generally feel unkind toward Tivo for rolling over and supporting this crap. Their excuse originally had something to do with having to agree to macro vision to make the combo DVD units but it never really made sense to me since it pollutes the stand alone as well. MCE supports this crap to. Replay didn’t back in the day and of course MythTV is still a island where rampant IP control freaks can’t harm and abuse the consumer at a whim, but cablelabs will be locking them out of the long game for sure.
    Hey IP owners, guess what I payed for the dam content, it’s on my closed proprietary Tivo box, now get the hell away from me, how I choose to enjoy it in my home and at my leisure is none of your goddam business and you have ZERO right to try dictate terms to me across my property line. And shame on Tivo and MS for rolling over on your true customers, the consumer.

  2. None of this stuff is showing up on the DirecTivo units (yet). It was inevitable, though, that restrictions on recording and playback would come to PVRs. The IP holders have tremendous leverage. I think the battle is lost already. If you want to buy a consumer PVR device, you’re going to have to deal with these restrictions.

  3. With a pay channel the obvious recourse, if this starts happening for real, is to simply drop the channel. I wouldn’t pay for HBO if I couldn’t watch Entourage and Deadwood on my own time. Don’t know how many drops that would be, but hopefully they’d notice. Suggest doing it the minute it happens and is confirmed by others on the boards as not just some glitch.

  4. Of all the intrusive, ill-considered, unbelieveably un-customer friendly… Fox just lost me as a viewer

    at all


  5. HBO, Cinemax, etc., have been tagging movies with macrovision for quite some time now. This makes it impossible to copy to a DVD. I resent paying for premium channels and having such restrictions on being able to watch them later.

  6. Yeah, this is why I never bought a TiVo. Saw this coming miles away. Won’t buy a TV with HDMI either.
    I second the motion to build your own PVR with MythTV. That’s what I did. I have four tuners for recording and 750GB of storage. Plus I can burn my shows to DVD, store my music on the box, my pictures, video games, the list goes on and on…

  7. I’ve had TiVo for 4.5 years, including the DVD burners since they came out. The flags have never been an issue for me – I don’t think I’ve ever seen one come up. These are almost always due to a glitch from the provider.

    Every time these things pop up I get pissed off because I know what that means – a bunch of ill-informed chicken little responses around the net. I saw a few already, linking back here.

    The fact is most recording devices have Macrovision and these flags have popped up on non-TiVo devices, including PC capture cards. So don’t be too smug about avoiding them because you don’t use TiVo. Even MythTV could be caught if the card used does HW detection.

    This will simply not be an issue for the vast majority, nearly all, TiVo users – or any DVR users. It is nothing to get worked up about or to worry about. Well, any more than DRM in general. iTunes is more of a hassle then this.

  8. Nice. So using my Tivo to catch my shows for a weeklong trip will be pointless.

    Ever notice how people who have nothing better to do get rich finding ways to make it more difficult for those of us who are just trying to find a few minutes between work hours to unwind?

  9. Tivo’s original competitor, ReplayTV, refused to kneel to the broadcast industries and got tied up in court for years. As a result Tivo seized the market. Tivo has been a DRM booster for years.

    I am still happily enjoying my 2001-era ReplayTV. No copy protection, no expiration, automatic advert skipping, and lets me stream and send shows over the Internet at will.

  10. Meehawl – it may interest you to know that ReplayTV signed the same Macrovision contract as TiVo – only they did it a year BEFORE TiVo did. TiVo held out longer. ReplayTV does have Macrovision built in, and they touted that repeatedly in their own defense during the lawsuits.

  11. My Comcast digital cable box messes up occasionally and tags channels with “widescreen” or (rarely) “content protection” flags–even things like Sesame Street. The digital boxes seem to have some problem, and I bet if Mr Campos had an analog connection, it wouldn’t show the same restriction–it’s the cable box’s fault.

  12. After seeing this report in August, I put the movie “A Flea in Her Ear” in my Tivo wishlist to see what would happen if it showed up and was recorded.

    A few weeks later, the movie did indeed show up, and was recorded completely normally, just like any other movie, with no copy protection flag whatever. Like Mr. Campos (who provided the screen shots above), my cable vendor is Comcast. In my case, it is Comcast New England; in Mr. Campos’ case, Comcast of Seattle.

    It is clear that it was not Tivo that incorrectly flagged the movie. Tivo responded to the flag that was incorrectly set by the local station or network channel that piped the movie to Comcast-Seattle for rebroadcast. Mr. Campos’ Tivo only did what it was contractually obligated to do when it finds the flag present.

    I understand that the underlying issue is: should Tivo respond to this flag at all when present — whether the flag is correctly or incorrectly present? That question could well be discussed, but in much the same way that we could discuss our preferences for the horizon on which the sun sets. No matter what we decide is best, the sun is pretty much going to set in the West.

  13. I am not au fait with analog Macrovision protection – isn’t it required by law in the U.S. for all analog recording devices? I do note that I can record DVDs onto my RTV5040 and play them back. So the Macrovision protection here seems quite loose. Attempting to re-record this has problems, indicating that an analog Macrovision spoiler signal has been inserted into the recording.

    As far as I can see, the only copy protection on my 2001-era RTV5040 is that a show received from another Replay owner over the internet resides in a special “Received Shows” category that precludes me from re-sending it to another person. However, I can output that show using the analog feed and then input to Replay as a manual recording and then re-send it. I can also download it to any Java-enabled PC with DVArchive or Windows machine running WiRNS.

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