HBO’s Harrasment of PVR Owners

Unhappy Media Center

Ed Bott’s Media Central � Ouch! Bitten by DRM Well last week I wrote about Dave Zatz’s report that HBO wanted to have their content coded as “Copy Never” for PVR users. In response to Dave’s post I tried to clarify to people that HBO’s DRM request to the FCC was not about DVR usage but about VOD usage, what I felt was an important distinction.

Well no sooner than this morning we now have a screen shot up at Ed Bott’s Media Central about a “Restricted Content” error that he is receiving on his Media Center PC for an HBO show that he recorded. The message reads: Restricted Content, Restrictions set by the broadcaster and/or originator of the content prohibit playback of the program on this computer.

What’s worse is that according to Ed, he is receiving this message on the computer that actually recorded the programming, not a second computer that he copied the file too.

Under the best case scenario, this message is yet another example of how DRM inadvertently gets in the way of legitimate and fair use. If content providers want to use DRM it is super important that they make it as seamless for the fair use consumer as possible.

Under the worse case scenario, of course, HBO is actually no longer letting you record their content on your PVR for personal use. While I doubt this is the case, the day that HBO does this I will call them up and cancel my account — no matter how badly I want to watch the upcoming season of the Sopranos.

Either way this looks bad for HBO who is quickly building a reputation as one of the most consumer unfriendly broadcasters out there.

Update: Ed Bott is still trying to troubleshoot why HBO will not allow him to play back recorded content on his Media Center PC. This is a big problem. If Ed Bott, who is one of the top Windows Pros out there, is having trouble figuring this out, just imagine how stuck your average Joe out there is going to be when he runs across the same thing. Ed’s headline today, HBO stops working with Media Center, is kind. If these kinds of bugs continue to threaten fair use get ready for bigger headlines that say things like, Yes, in Fact, Microsoft’s DRM Does Truly Suck.

It may not be fair to generalize based on Ed’s experience here but he is a pro and it is troubling to see this kind of interference for a legitmate fair use of content that he has purchased. He is paying for HBO afterall and he also is paying for his Media Center PC.

I posted a comment on Ed’s blog about how I recently switched my email reader from Microsoft’s Outlook to Mozilla Thunderbird. I actually like Outlook more but even with the actual original Outlook disk that I had purchased myself I could not get Microsoft’s buggy authentication to work. After several hours of screwing around with it I just gave up and installed Thunderbird (which I’d highly recommend by the way). This was not my first problem with Microsoft authentication and if Microsoft hopes for consumers to take a middle ground position with regards to DRM then it will need to work a lot better than it is working for Ed right now.

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22 Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thomas,

    This sentence is wrong, TiVo doesn’t create content:

    “Under the worse case scenario, of course, TiVo is actually no longer letting you record their content on your PVR for personal use.”

  2. Anonymous says:

    The only way to combat this is for everyone to stop subscribing to HBO and subscribing to the less unfriendly broadcasters. They will get the message sooner or later. Although I can see where they are coming from…

  3. Thomas Hawk says:

    Thanks anonymous on the TiVo catch (too much TiVo on the brain lately). I changed it to correctly read HBO.

  4. Matt says:

    It’s very possible there could be a bug in MCE…

  5. Thomas Hawk says:

    Matt, I’m sure it probably is a bug as in under my best case scenario, but if Microsoft and HBO want consumers to accept DRM they are going to have to make it bug free. There is already little tollerance for DRM and when it interferes with fair use it only exacerbates the problem. Add to the fact that I’ve yet to see HBO come out and say that they understand and respect a users right to make a fair use PVR copy on their own personal machine and it compounds the issue.

    If HBO and Microsoft hope to see consumers take a middle road and less adversarial position on DRM then screen shots like this should not be popping up on Ed Bott’s site.

  6. Chris says:

    MCE 2005 roll up 2 caused this same problem for me. Content restristed error on the machine actually recording it. There are several sites that describe how to fix this but I agree that drm needs to be bug free before consumers will fully accept it. HBO has an faq about thier drm here http://www.hbo.com/corpinfo/faq/cgmsfaq.shtml

  7. justkristin says:

    I, for one, gave up on cable and TV in general, except for what I really want to watch, which I simply rent from Netflix. The only, only, only things that would ever make me once again consider giving any of them my money would be removal of personal use issues and a la carte subscriptions.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Whatever… The only true option is to build your own DVR using MythTV or something similar. Don’t let The Man tell you what you can or cannot do with content they are streaming into your own house.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I started getting this a couple of weeks ago, so I called my CATV provider. When they said, “What’s a Media Center?” I knew I was in trouble.

    So I dropped HBO and switched to Cinemax. It’s fine. I miss some shows I used to enjoy, but it’s not worth the hassle of my wife and kids beating on me for the TV not working.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I’m amazed that anyone still subscribes to HBO. I quit my subscription about 6 months ago after coming to the hard-won realization that I was paying ~$200/yr for a couple of TV shows that are marginally good – and that I could get on DVD and enjoy with extras. As a TiVo owner, I couldn’t even harvest enough worthwhile content from the channel to justify keeping it, so I cancelled.

    Now this? Those of you still paying for HBlOw should step back and consider the value proposition – and will it really matter if you can’t talk about The Sopranos or Six Feet Under the day after broadcast?

  11. Anonymous says:

    Why fight them when you can beat them? I was sick of them constantly removing my right to view the shows that I paid for and received on my Window Media Center (each and EVERY update added more DRM complications). So I shut-off “automatic update” and went out and bought one of these

    http://www.simacorp.com
    (Sima GoDVD! Model CT-200)

    Eat my shorts HBO, I paid for your crap content once… I am legally allowed to view it once.
    Have a nice day 😉

  12. torpid says:

    HBO doesn’t deserve your business!

    I don’t mean to be cruel, but anyone who gets burned like that deserves it for playing their shell-game.

    You’re not going to have any rights left if you keep tollerating a little bit more DRM.

    That is why I don’t use any technology that uses DRM — if a company uses DRM, that is a slap in the face and I have every right to download their content via alternative means.

    Here is what I suggest you do:
    Cancel your primitive telivision delivery services, cable, satellite whatever..

    And put an extra $20 a month into a faster internet connnection, and simply subscribe to a torrent rss feed at thepiratebay.com or mininova.org, and get the next season of the Sopranoes delivered right to your desktop in HD, without any DRM what so ever!

    That is what I do, and I am better off, a good torrent client like azureus, a fast internet connection, and a TV-out card is a complete replacement for telivision.

    You don’t need to feel guilty about it, you won’t be a “pirate” or a “theif”.
    They have already stolen your rights from you, and you don’t even fully realize it.

    Time to show them you don’t need them!

  13. Aaron says:

    Hey Simacorp guy. You’re posting this obvious product advertising everywhere. Give us a break.

    Thomas, if you think there’s such a thing as “bug-free” software then you’re clearly not in the software business. Bugs happen. People work very hard to prevent them, but they still happen. And let’s face it, this is not “mission critical” software.

    Given the choice between HD quality content with DRM and crappy quality without DRM, I’ll take the former every time. And this is the compromise that such DRM technologies are setting us up for in Vista. I’ll take it though, if it paves the way for premium HD content in Vista.

    Here’s an example: What are all the MythTV supporters going to do when they realize that it’ll never support CableCARDs?

  14. sirshannon says:

    I had the same problem for about 3 weeks in November. Something apparently went wrong with Windows during that time but I am not sure what the problem was. Eventually my system completely crashed (may or may not have been related?) and I did a system restore (backed up the a “safe” restore point). Since then I have had no problems, other than inability to watch any HBO I had recorded before that time.

    Apparently the DRM didn’t recognize my PC as being the one that recorded the shows. We have 2 MCE boxes in my home so we were easily able to verify that it was a problem on my MCE only, HBO was fine on the other MCE.

  15. Anonymous says:

    This problem is not with HBO and its use of DRM broadcast flags. It is actually a DRM issue with Windows Media Center / Media Player.

    An easy way to reproduce this issue on a MCE 2005 system is:

    1. Launch Media Center and verify HBO displays fine in Live TV. Be sure the Guide is updated.
    2. Close Media Center.
    3. Set your system time one day ahead. Restart the system.
    4. Launch Media Center and watch HBO again with Live TV.
    5. Wait a bit, and the Restricted Content issue should appear.

    Microsoft’s eHome devision knows of this issue, and have been working on it for a while now.

    If your MCE system is showing the sytem, contact the PC manufacturer and have their support division work with Microsoft to get a fix released.

    Peace.

  16. Anonymous says:

    While I sometimes watch a movie on HBO, most of my movie desires are served by Netfilx. No matter how bad I want to keep up with The Sopranos, the day I can’t Tivo HBO programming is the day I cancel my subscription – I’ll wait a year and catch up on Sopranos on DVD.

  17. C.J. says:

    I had this error for a while with HBO, ever since i installed RU2.

    i finally was able to solve it by

    1) installing the MS patch here.
    http://support.microsoft.com/kb/910393
    2) rebooting
    3) deleting the DRM folder completely in your Application Data folder. ( it will be regenerated)

    (also – for hardware changes – see here
    http://support.microsoft.com/?kbid=891664
    )

  18. Anonymous says:

    Thanks cj but that didn’t work. I still can’t even watch Live TV on HBO and Cinemax so far.

  19. Anonymous says:

    I had the same problem on my hp. I used the software repair wizard to restore my system back before there was a software update from microsoft. it seems there is a bug with the media player 10 which replaces your license in the drm folder which is hidden. If you use the system restore to a certain point when you know it was working fine you will be back in business.

  20. Marcus says:

    Just use Media Portal and Windows XP less bugs and No DRM and support for most all Tv Cards May Open Source Forever Raine Supreme

  21. Anonymous says:

    I just starting having similar problems after installing WMP 10.
    AMC is blocked, as well as HBO.

  22. Anonymous says:

    I started getting this message a couple of days ago after restoring my computer. I have had problems with a couple of NBC and CBS shows. It always comes up about half way through the show. arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh.