From July 2005, every digital TV tuner sold in North America, whether a card or standalone television set, will incorporate a chip listening out for the Advanced Television Systems Committee Flag, or “broadcast flag” as it has become known.
Devised by the Motion Picture Association of America, the broadcast flag is a technology where broadcasters will be able to control whether or not a home viewer can make a digital copy of a particular programme. If a programme has the flag set, receivers disable their digital outputs – so if a viewer wishes to make a copy, it will have to be onto analogue tape, or onto special low-resolution DVDs.
Needless to say the flag has had a somewhat mixed reception – as do most initiatives where the default position is to mistrust the customer.
But what will the flag be capable of in the future? Further incarnations of the technology could be used to prevent viewers from skipping adverts, or even preventing time shifting.