NBC says it inadvertently flagged 'American Gladiators'

A week after some users of Vista Media Centers are prevented from blocking two NBC Universal shows, the network acknowledges issuing broadcast flag.

Greg Sandoval Former Staff writer
Greg Sandoval covers media and digital entertainment for CNET News. Based in New York, Sandoval is a former reporter for The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. E-mail Greg, or follow him on Twitter at @sandoCNET.
Greg Sandoval
2 min read

A week after some users of Vista Media Centers were prevented from recording two NBC Universal shows, the network acknowledged Monday that it inadvertently blocked some people from recording the shows.

The owners of Windows Vista Media Centers were prevented from recording American Gladiators and Medium last Monday. At the message board The Green Button, Vista users gathered to complain about receiving a prompt that informed them that the broadcaster had "prohibited recording of this program."

"We made an inadvertent mistake," an NBC spokeswoman said in an interview with CNET News.com. "We're not aware of any other complaints, and we believe we have addressed the problem."

For a week, fans of digital video recorders wondered if Hollywood was trying to force DVR (digital video recorder) owners to watch commercials. Historically, TV and cable networks have resented DVRs for enabling viewers to jump past ads. The Federal Communications Commission proposed rules that would require electronics manufacturers to set up their technologies to block recording at the request of TV networks.

The courts ruled that the FCC was out of bounds, but there is nothing to stop Microsoft or other electronics makers from choosing to adhere to flags.

The NBC spokeswoman said the network had no intention of blocking the show but declined to specify how the error was made. Flags that have been issued accidentally aren't uncommon, some industry insiders say. While acknowledging that it "fully adheres to flags used by broadcasters," Microsoft said that it was working with content owners to reduce the number of false flags.

"The success of the entire distribution chain is dependent on all involved maintaining the necessary checks and quality control so that coding is correctly applied," a Microsoft spokeswoman wrote in an e-mail to News.com.

Meanwhile, the larger issue for some is that Microsoft and possibly other hardware and software makers will honor broadcast flags.

"Customers need to know who Microsoft is listening to and how that affects their equipment," said Danny O'Brien, a staffer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group for Internet users.

The EFF says it's important for consumers to know whether their DVRs can be controlled by entertainment companies.