Last week, courtesy of NBC, people with a Windows Media Center DVR setup got a rude reminder that broadcasters can flip a switch (called a broadcast flag) to tell DVRs not to record a show. Here's the thing: Honoring the flag is actually optional for software and hardware makers, after courts smacked down the FCC proposal to make them mandatory. But Microsoft has confirmed that they do whatever the broadcaster tells them, again, even though they don't have to. NBC hasn't confirmed yet whether or not the American Gladiators flag was intentional, but their history doesn't give me a fuzzy feeling. Update: NBC says it was an accident.
Hug your DVRs, people, because while NBC might be the most anal network about how people watch its shows (very likely because it's last place in ratings), they may very well be just the first to use broadcast flags this way (CBS would probably be the last, they're oddly the most forward-thinking network on the digital front). While the broadcast flag was conceptualized to protect premium and PPV content, it could increasingly be used to protect marquis shows like Heroes, to force you to view them on NBC's terms, like at NBC.com. Why? Ad dollars.
But while it's expected for networks to act like this, it's sad that Microsoft is effectively choosing content producers over consumers, when it doesn't have to, and as the EFF points out, "the only way customers know what Microsoft has agreed to is when the technology they've bought suddenly stops working." And that's just wrong. [Cnet via Slashdot]