HBO Using Tivo's Macrovision DRM To Restrict "John Adams" Miniseries?

When Dean recorded HBO’s new Tom Hanks-produced miniseries “John Adams”—which is not a pay-per-view or on-demand program—he was surprised to see it was flagged by Tivo’s Macrovision software, which controls how many times you may watch a program and how long you can store it before it’s automatically deleted. Now the question is, was this a mistake on the part of HBO or Dean’s cable provider Comcast? Or—considering HBO’s infamous anti-consumer stance on time-shifted programming—is it the beginning of a sneaky “back-door” approach to locking down all their content, something Tivo’s own people said would probably not happen when they added Macrovision to their recorders in 2004?

Update: Missdona has provided a couple of useful links in the comments below. If you experience similar issues with select programs being incorrectly DRMed, check out these threads for advice on how to resolve the situation.

Here’s what Dean experienced:

“This morning, my kids and I decided to watch a TiVo HD recording we made last night of The Making of John Adams. This is the new upcoming mini-series by Tom Hanks and others about the lives and accomplishments of John Adams. When we started watching it, I first found that the TiVo had flagged it for mandatory auto-deletion within a few hours of being deleted, due to ‘copyright policies.’ Hmm – never saw that one before.
After about 5 minutes watching, my oldest son came into the room, and we decided to start it over so he could enjoy it. What I found was something I’ve never seen before and has me pretty frosted. When I backed up to the beginning and attempted to watch it again, TiVo would not allow me to – again stating that it had violated copyright policies. After countless attempts at forward and reverse moves, we found that we could now not watch any portion of the show! I rebooted the TiVo, and found the same thing. No can do – the TiVo/HBO/Comcast programming had locked it from being viewed again! Then as promised at 11:29am EST, it deleted from my hard drive and there was nothing I could do about it.

Randomly flagged programming has happened before with the Tivo—for example, a Fox Movie Channel broadcast in 2006 triggered Tivo’s recording restrictions, but seems to have been an error on the broadcaster’s part. Is the same thing happening with HBO? What’s suspicious about this is that Dean discovered both the making of featurette and the miniseries were blocked, so more than one program was flagged.

In this Wired interview from November 2004, Tivo’s general counsel assured the public that it was unlikely (ha!) that content providers would take advantage of the Macrovision technology to restrict recording of regular programming:

What if the higher-value content is just the beginning? This could be a Trojan horse.
That would be a violent blow to consumer flexibility. You could end up in a situation where different products by different manufacturers would have different rules. I don’t think we would go along with it.
With the cable companies in bed with the studios, TiVo could be the last line of defense for the DVR as we know it.
Sometimes I feel that way. We’re aware of the danger, and the slippery slope. The danger is that DRM can tilt the balance of copyright so that ultimately there’s no concept of fair use, because the content owners dictate what the rules are. But I think content owners are beginning to recognize that if you make things too restrictive, then consumers will find nonlegal ways to achieve what they want.

We don’t know where Dean lives. Has anyone else tried to record this miniseries, and if so, was it flagged with DRM protection for you? (Note: it appears that Dean recorded it in HD, so if anyone who can test this with an HD Tivo, that would be even sweeter.)

“UPDATED: HBO’s new miniseries IS locked down for TiVo recording” [The Culture of Ownership] (Thanks to Missdona!)

“Has TiVo Forsaken Us?” [Wired]
(Photo: Culture of Ownership)


Edit Your Comment

  1. MARTHA__JONES says:

    Oh I would be so pissed.

  2. ptkdude says:

    I recorded both episodes so far and don’t have any restrictions on it. I am using a standard series2 TiVo connected to a Comcast digital cable box.

    I was able to transfer both episodes to my computer without a problem.

  3. ptkdude says:

    UPDATE: I am using standard-definition TV, not HD as shown in the screenshots above and the linked article.

  4. teh says:

    Even if this is a mistake on the broadcaster’s part, how does this make me more likely to legally watch the show? I really do try to watch legal versions of shows (Tivo, Netflix, online streaming) and am even willing to deal with a little bit of a hassle in order to do so, but this is a bit ridiculous. If I were in Dean’s position, I probably would have given up and pirated the show.

  5. matto says:

    This happens occasionally and turns out to be regional cable providers getting over-enthusiastic setting the copy-control bits. Peeking at the Tivo Community Forums shows Richmond, VA Comcast customers having the same issues with HBO, Showtime and Starz.

    This looks a lot more like ignorance than malice.

  6. Buran says:

    It’s happened before and it’s your cable company’s fault. You need to call them and complain because they aren’t supposed to be flagging that.

  7. Groovnick says:

    I have a DVR through Wide Open West (WOW) cable in Michigan. I recorded the first two episodes of John Adams and watched them later. I paused several different times and rewound a few times (it’s kind of difficult to understand the language they’re using sometimes) and had no problems. However I deleted them when I was done. Didn’t try to save them to watch again later.

  8. mike_bruns_99 says:

    As Buran said, it’s not Tivo’s fault. They are required to pass the copy protection flags that are set by the cable company.

    I’ve had the same issue with Time Warner. I had no luck dealing with them directly, so I sent a request to the Public Utilities Commission, responsible for the video franchise.

    Time Warner’s response:

    “TWC sets copy protection settings in accordance with applicable law and our programming agreements. The settings are correct.”

    So, where’s the link to vote for the Worst Company in America?

  9. bohemian says:

    Get your own DVR or build a DVR capable media PC. No monthly fees and no BS.

  10. Parting says:

    This type of BS pushes paying customers to pirating on the web.

    Why pay and get crap for your money, when you can get crap-less recordings for free.

    That’s a great way to punish paying customers !

  11. fhic says:

    @bohemian: I think I may have asked you this in another thread: what do you use to get the HD signal into your media PC?

  12. fhic says:

    I have TivoHD via Cox Cable San Diego. My recording of both episodes of John Adams are not flagged with auto-delete, but they are tagged with DRM so they can’t be transferred to DVD or VCR. I recorded them off HBOHD last night, watched them during the night, and then deleted them. (In my opinion, they weren’t good enough to save, and if experience is any indication, HBO will rebroadcast them about a zillion times until everyone is heartily sick of them.) But I digress… I was able to restore them from my “deleted” folder and there they sit, in my Now Playing list.

  13. missdona says:

    Hey Chris ;-)

    The more I read on this, I think it might be a mis-code of the DRM.


    I’m Tivo’ing the HD versions of John Adams tonight (Comcast, Northern NJ). I’ll report back in the morning.

  14. TPK says:

    Exactly… eliminate the “opportunity” for error…

  15. scoosdad says:

    Charter cable in my area recently “upgraded” the firmware in their Scientific Atlanta cable boxes, and as a result the video output that I use to record from has caused my Panasonic DVD/HDD recorder to behave erratically no matter what channel is tuned on the cable box. Not always prohibiting the recording, but causing the transport to respond sluggishly and eventually the recorder to lock up totally. Other users with similar models to mine and even differnt brands reported the same thing on the AVS Forum; some were prohibited from recording certain broadcasts from movie channels as well. Panasonic issued a firmware upgrade for some models but never got around to doing one for mine.

    The fix was one of these or similar boxes:


    and the problem went away. This box should also fix any copyright flagging if that’s how you hook up your recorder. This of course won’t fix the problem if you’re recording direct off the cable via a cable card in the Tivo; this is only for those who can record indirectly off the cable box using video and audio cables. As always YMMV.

  16. ghettoimp says:

    Hearing about this kind of thing makes me glad I have a MythTV box. Not sure how it would work with a cable service, but it’s great for over-the-air stuff. It’s also completely open source and even has algorithms to detect and skip commercials for you.

  17. missdona says:

    More info on CCI byte


  18. grahams says:

    Sounds like some Comcast BS to me, I’m on RCN and recorded the first two episodes of this show in HD, and they aren’t locked for me.

  19. rhpot1991 says:

    This is exactly why I became a MythTV ([]) user. I would strongly suggest that everyone takes a look around at all available options before just getting a tivo or dvr from their cable companies. By speaking with my wallet and refusing to pay them for their locked in services I have found myself an open source project that I enjoy so much I am no longer just a user, and have been spending my free time developing and supporting for a MythTV based operating system which aims at making the entire experience more attainable for average users ([]).

  20. loudguitars says:

    I recorded both eps of the miniseries so far on my Series 3 (HD) TiVo and had zero problems and no indication of flagging. I’m in the L.A. area on Time Warner Cable. Call your cable company, for sure.

  21. jimconsumer says:

    This is why I refuse to buy consumer products that support DRM in any way, shape or form. “DRM = NO SALE.” Sorry, but I’ll not have my consumer electronics telling me what to do. I, for one, do NOT welcome my consumer electronic overlords. It’s cliche, but it’s true.

    Many years ago I bought a Sony mini-DV cam that refused to copy a home movie I’d made years prior on an old, full size VHS camcorder. The DRM built into my shiny new $1,000 videocamera detected “copy protection” and disabled itself any time I tried to move the old video through it. Stupid fucking worthless piece of shit. I’ve been adamantly anti-DRM since and vowed, “Never again.” To the point that I won’t touch even iTunes with a ten foot pole. Screw them. Stop treating your customers like criminals, we paid for it, right? So back the hell off.

    Interesting that it’s a lot less hassle to illegally download material than to put up with the various copy protection schemes that inevitably lock me out of the software I paid for. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve legally bought video games, then had to illegally download a crack just to get the stupid thing to work right. Makes me wonder why I bothered to buy it in the first place.

  22. stopNgoBeau says:

    Recorded it here in Baton Rouge, LA, from HBOHD, watched them, transfered to TivoToGo, and had no issues. Like others has said, this is a local provider problem, not a Tivo or HBO issue.

  23. matto says:

    To all the MythTV fanboys; care to explain how you’re recording anything but OTA ATSC or in-the-clear QAM? I’m pretty sure you arent recording anything off HBO, regardless of how your cable provider is setting copy control.

  24. SpenceMan01 says:

    TIVO is DRMed? I had no idea. Eh, chalk that up with the monthly fee as to why I won’d buy a TIVO box. I’ll have to check out that MythTV thing.

  25. rhpot1991 says:

    @matto: The cable company is required by FCC law to give you working firewire ports on any HD STB. Now this gets shady where they can go ahead and encrypt the channels that are not locals without any repercussions, so this method can be hit or miss depending upon where you live. In Q1 of this year Hauppauge is releasing an external device that will be able to IR blast to your STB and capture HD video over component hookups, until then you are screwed unless you get lucky and have some open firewire connections to your good channels. This is why I refuse to get a dvr from my cable company, they should not be rewareded for their bad behavior with my money. Speak with your wallet and tell them what they are doing is not ok, and you will not pay for some overpriced gimped service that you have no control over.

  26. MercuryPDX says:

    Before people get all out of whacked about DRM, the only things I’ve seen Tivo apply DRM to are TivoCast and Amazon UnBox rentals (not purchases).

    Lifehacker also did an article that details how to watch downloaded content on your Tivo for free, so go find a John Adams torrent. ;)

  27. Sherryness says:

    Wow – This is one of the many reasons I am so happy that my original, 7-year-old TiVo is still in perfect working order, knock on wood!

  28. dieman says:

    If its in HD, its likely that the local Comcast franchise has messed up the CCI bytes. Give them a call and try to work it out, failing that call up your local franchise authority and let them know that Comcast is happily crippling your dvr while not doing the same to their own. Thats generally worked well for me.

  29. loueloui says:

    This is a damn shame. I was one of the early adopters of Tivo. Although I loved the device, and still love the concept (I have a DVR), some of their corporate policies really disgusted me.

    One thing in particular was their ‘starred’ advertisements, which could not be deleted. That really pissed me off. I was paying every month to swap one form of advertising for another -one that couldn’t be avoided.

    The final straw was when they said they would start selling your viewing habits to the highest bidder. I am a firm believer that my actions, and behaviors, are owned by me and not some third party. If I watch an artist paint a picture, and was able to recreate his exact moves to paint an identical copy of that picture, is that not infringement?

  30. missdona says:

    My test went well. Both eps of John Adams in HD recorded with no flags on my TiVo HD with Comcast in Northern NJ with cable cards.

    @loueloui: I understand what you mean, but you could opt-out of the viewing habits thing.

  31. RvLeshrac says:


    You shouldn’t have to opt-out. It should be opt-in only. Next, the bank will be selling an aggregated, “anonymous” record of your purchases unless you opt-out.

  32. shepd says:

    @matto: In HD or SD? In SD, it’s as simple as hooking a receiver up to a capture card. In HD, well, it’s a bit more complicated. There’s firewire (if you’re in the US, this is mandated by law), or analog capture (whenever that gets finished).

    Personally, I’m not going to go HDTV until this issue is solved. If that means in 2011 (Yay for being Canadian) I have to use a downconverter, so be it. You can shove DRM down my throat once I’m dead. It’s too bad the DRM only exists because people are willing to accept HDTV no matter how terrible their experience with it is.

  33. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    @SpenceMan01: Yes, Tivo had to comply with the CCI restrictions or there WOULDN’T BE A CABLE CARD ENABLED TIVO.

    This is a case of the CCI byte being set incorrectly at the cable head end, which does happen frequently.

  34. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    @RvLeshrac: Grow up. Most things like this are already ‘opt-out’ and wishing they weren’t or whining about how they shouldn’t be, is not going to change anything.
    People need to pay attention to what they check or click or sign instead of blindly speeding through and then whining later.

  35. toddvm says:

    I have Insight with the DVR. And for some strange reason it “randomly” will not record new popular TV shows. I set the recording to record a show on a weekly basis and then it just takes the scheduled recording off the list. It causes me to have to check every evening that my shows are going to be recorded. But the funny thing is, this ONLY happens with the newly broadcasted high-ranking TV shows. Repeats and shows that aren’t as popular there is NEVER an issue. Has anyone else had this problem? I am thinking Insight is doing this on purpose and the reason why is I got a new DVR to try and fix the problem and same thing.

  36. leastcmplicated says:

    @rhpot1991: QFT, I have a Mythbuntu box. I’m new to Linux too and didnt have a hard time setting everything up. It works great for what I watch and record. Also, its not only my DVR its also my media center, all my music is on there, playing through the surround, all my movies are on there so I dont have to deal with DVDs. I don’t have HBO but before I moved we did and we had no issues recording from it… Now all I pay is $20/yr for SchedulesDirect.

  37. boomer6447 says:

    I think the most important question is how did your kids handle the full frontal male nudity or cussing? I thought about watching it with my 11 yr old, and ordinarily the cussing wouldn’t have bothered me, but the naked during tar and feathering part I ff’wd through.

    By the way…no problem

  38. @fhic: Most newer TV Capture cards allow for two inputs: One SD signal and one DTV signal.

  39. missdona says:

    @toddvm: My parents had an Insight DVR for about a month. The software was buggy, they would have random re-starts and (what made my mom most-crazy) is when the cable was down, so was the DVR. They traded it twice with no better results, so they switched to TiVo.

  40. sleze69 says:

    @bohemian: Let us know when we can purchase a tv-card capable of decoding encrypted digital signals.

    Unless your cable company just broadcasts all its content un-encrypted, you CAN’T just build a computer to record this.

    Luckily, there will be full HD, non-DRM versions available for download on bit-torrent. Isn’t it great when the illegal versions of shows are easier to use and more convenient to access? Oh wait, no. That’s just ironic.

  41. bohemian says:

    @sleze69: We don’t purchase the HD package so YMMV. I’m not 100% sure how the whole mess is configured (I didn’t set it up) but it works and were not bound to DRM and other nonsense by the cable company.

  42. strangeffect says:

    @bohemian: I never used to think that building your own DVR was worth it. Now, and not just because of this particular story, I’m inclined to go that route.

  43. NoWin says:


    Betcha’ John Adams (known never to be tongue-tied) would have used some colorful language as well!

  44. Benstein says:

    My good ‘ol DVR rented from the cable company does not have this. If it did I would just use an old PC as a DVR.

  45. scoosdad says:


    If its in HD, its likely that the local Comcast franchise has messed up the CCI bytes. Give them a call and try to work it out

    Uh, this is Comcast we’re talking about here, right? Your chances of calling into their 800- number, talking to a rep who is not even in your area, then your bit of technical information getting back to someone in your local headend who knows what you’re talking about, without the message being totally screwed up, is practically nil.

    I think you have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting to talk to anyone who knows about CCI bytes and what it all means to you as a customer. Good luck with that. Talking to someone in charge of overseeing the franchise on your local government level is a better bet, and most of them do have numbers for people on the local level of Comcast.

    On a weekend last year, Charter cable in our area had their ’emergency notifier’ system stuck in the “on” mode for hours at a time, overlaying a test message on all basic channels and interrupting audio once every two minutes for 10 seconds with a shrill alarm tone. You would think that people calling into their tech support number could get that fixed in a hurry, no? Not a chance. It lasted for five hours on Saturday, then on Sunday at the same time, it started up all over again, ruining a Sunday afternoon of football viewing. The agents I spoke to four times that weekend said they had no way of calling anyone to tell them to shut it off, and had no access to internal phone numbers of people working at the headends. Two of the agents told me it was probably my fault somehow on my end, and the other two said they were required by FCC rules to run those test messages like that. Unbelievable, and to think that maybe Charter might have local employees watching at home who might have been able to see it and respond to it, and didn’t, was the most amazing thing when it happened all over again on Sunday.

    Interesting thing was that it didn’t interrupt any movie channels or on-demand or pay per view, as if it didn’t matter to those viewers that the world was about to come to an end.

  46. Sir Winston Thriller says:

    We recorded both episodes and the Making of.. off the HBO HD channel. We have Comcast in Vermont, but we have a Scientific Atlanta Explorer 8000 HD box. (We had the 8300 HD, but it wouldn’t let us watch any HD On Demand programs without restarting a few seconds into the program). No copyright restrictions on our recording.

  47. dandd says:

    This is exactly why Bittorrent thrives. Why can’t the entertainment industry come to the realization that the consumer will not be boxed in by DRM or any other of their methods.

    Piracy is bad, but like it or not it is the most convenient way of getting the material you want.

  48. IphtashuFitz says:

    @bohemian: And no ability to record premium HD content (HBO, etc), or in many cases HD content from the likes of Discovery HD, National Geographic HD, Sci Fi HD, etc. The cable companies scramble virtually every HD channel except possibly the ones you can also get over the air. The only way to view/record these channels is to use a cable box or TiVo (or other DVR) that supports CableCARDs since it’s the CableCARD that does the decryption.

  49. kwh says:

    My TIVO hasn’t been plugged into a phone line since approximately May 2003, and hasn’t received any software updates. I recorded John Adams and was able to watch it twice.

  50. rhpot1991 says:

    @leastcmplicated: Care to tell me how I am trolling? I stated that I am a happy MythTV user and am involved with Mythbuntu development, and then explain to someone else about the current state of HD capture cards, and this is trolling how?

  51. Buran says:

    @boomer6447: When I was 11 I didn’t care. You see that sort of thing when you look in a mirror every day anyway. (Well, if I were a guy, I would, since I’m guessing it was probably a man who got tarred and feathered. I don’t get HBO).

  52. Garbanzo says:

    I test-recorded John Adams in HD on an HD TiVo, on Astound Cable in California. It doesn’t have the flag or lock icon shown in the screen cap above. I had no problem rewinding and watching from the start after it ran for 10 minutes.

  53. BeFrugalNotCheap says:

    You guys wanna hear old school? I taped sundays premier of john adams on VHS tapes. *Sigh*….I need a TiVo.

  54. MercuryPDX says:

    @kwh: How do you get channel listings/updates? I thought it has to phone home for those?

  55. h0mi says:

    Cablecard people. If you’re not using a cablecard, there’s no issues.

  56. missdona says:

    @MercuryPDX: It can be on your home network. If you have an old TiVo that’s un-subscribed, you can use it to set manual recordings, VCR style.

  57. consumerd says:


    Get your own DVR or build a DVR capable media PC. No monthly fees and no BS.

    Any tips or site links where one can go and do this?

  58. MercuryPDX says:

    @missdona: AH! I have both of mine networked, so mine technically has never had a phone line either. I didn’t think it would work without the listings.

  59. MercuryPDX says:

    @david_consumerist: There’s some How To’s at Lifehacker.

  60. missdona says:

    @MercuryPDX: Un-subbed Series 1s will work like a VCR. Un-subbed Series 2s will nag you to be subbed, and if they dial in, they’ll stop working until they’re subbed. I don’t know about Series 3s/HDs.

  61. deviationer says:

    just another reason not to use tivo. BeyondTV is great.

  62. missdona says:

    How do homebrewed DVRs record HD content? The Hauppauge thing above is promised for Q1, but are people recording HD today with their Myth/Beyond/whatever boxes?

  63. leastcmplicated says:

    @rhpot1991: I never said you were trolling?? I said QFT (quoted for truth) and agreed with you, I too have a mythbox… after i posted I realized that i didnt actually quote your statement (thought I did *shrug*) but I never said you were trolling, no idea where you got that idea :-

  64. leastcmplicated says:

    ahhh i guess QFT could mean quit fucking trolling? never heard it for that, but still not what i meant :)

  65. sleze69 says:

    Sasem has an external USB HDTV product that does very well recording HD content from OTA and unencrypted QAM. That gets you probably 20-25 digital channels (both SD and HD)from Comcast. The rest are scrambled.

    Until someone comes out with an oem cablecard device for computers, we will all be at the mercy of Tivo, Comcast, etc.

  66. missdona says:

    @sleze69: Thanks and that’s what I meant.. .the encrypted channels.

  67. rhpot1991 says:

    @leastcmplicated: Ya, I didn’t know what QFT meant and google told me you were calling me a troll. All is well, lets all enjoy our MythTV together.

  68. tcarreon says:

    no flagging here. comcast HD in MD + tivo series 3

  69. Alan Thomas says:

    Likewise, no flagging here: Verizon FiosTV / TiVo Series 3. I’ve watched the first two episodes twice each without a problem. I restarted the first one a few times.

  70. TiVoStephen says:

    I’m Stephen Mack, director of operations at TiVo.
    It has recently come to our attention that some of our subscribers using Comcast experienced issues recording shows on HBO, Showtime and Starz in the Richmond Virginia area. We wanted to let you know that we are aware of the issue and have worked with Comcast to correct it. The channels were marked for copy protection in error. We believe that this issue has substantially been resolved and will make sure that we take appropriate action for anyone that brings these types of problems to our attention in the future. We appreciate our subscriber’s help in identifying such problems. We take such reports seriously and want to take appropriate actions to get them resolved as appropriate.