Why do I Have to Watch Ads before my Blu-ray Movie? OR, "Oh Noes! PUOs!"


Movie discs, be they SD-DVD, Blu-ray, or UHD, have many advantages:  Superior picture quality and access to the best audio tracks, for example.  They are also permanent:  Not subject to the temporary nature of Studio content licensing contracts, which can leave you in the lurch when the "streaming" content you thought you had "purchased" suddenly stops being available!

But that doesn't mean discs are entirely free of annoyances!  And right at the top of most anybody's list of complaints would be that most movie and TV show discs try to FORCE you to watch commercials before you get to see your show!

In this post we will discuss the mysterious and frustrating world of Prohibited User Operations (PUOs, or sometimes, confusingly, UOPs).

PUOs have been with us since the dawn of Digital, Home Theater media -- enshrined in the original specifications for SD-DVD discs.  One of the important characteristics of Digital media, you see, is that you can jump around in it; going directly to something you want to play.  Or, and here's the rub, skipping over something you DON'T want to play.

Now, this is a problem for the folks who own the content -- i.e., the Studios.  Some things they may be contractually obligated to show you, such as the animated Logos of companies involved in the production.  Other things they may be legally obligated to show you, such as Copyright notices.  And so to insure buy-in by the major Studios, the SD-DVD specs included the ability for the Studios to deliberately block certain player operations, as needed for their business purposes.

So now if the Studio wants to display a Warning Slide -- detailing the dire consequences which will befall, should you be so foolhardy as to copy the contents off their disc, or ever play said disc in exchange for money -- they can rest assured you HAVE TO see that!

(Ahem.  Assuming, of course, you are not actually out of the room making popcorn!)

The LIST of player functions subject to such Prohibitions was pretty extensive, even at the start.  And it has only gotten more so with the transition to new, Blu-ray discs, and now, UHD Blu-ray discs.  For example, all of the playback navigation controls can be individually prohibited:  Things like Pause, Chapter Forward, Fast Forward, GoTo, and even Stop!  And functions which alter what you see on the screen can ALSO be prohibited:  For example, Zoom.

And every licensed disc player is obligated, by that licensing, to enforce the PUOs found on every disc.  Indeed, when Blu-ray discs came out, the new, Blu-ray licensing terms put even sharper constraints on what these new, Blu-ray players were allowed to do  --EVEN WHEN PLAYING OLDER, SD-DVD DISCS!

However a key point here is NONE of this is automatic!  Each Studio has to make its OWN, deliberate choices to add whatever PUOs they want, wherever they want them, on any given disc.

And despite appearances, the Studios really are aware of how customers react to this stuff.  So there is a constant tug of war going on in their thinking:  How much do we REALLY want to force customers to see such and so?  Even at the expense of pissing them off?

So they may force you to watch the Animated company logos presented BEFORE you get to the disc's own setup and playback menus, but NOT force you to watch those exact same logos when included at the start of the Feature film after you start it playing.  In contrast, they might force you to watch their various Warning Slides both before AND after you select to start playback of the Feature itself.

As another example, in my prior post on BD Java and Resume Play, I mentioned Blu-ray discs can be authored to stash information in the player's "Persistent Storage" -- information which the disc can then retrieve during a subsequent playback session.   One key bit of information like this is simply, THIS DISC HAS BEEN PLAYED BEFORE.

Because if the disc HAS been played before, then the viewer must have already been subjected to its litany of forced content.  So why show all that again?  That is, the Studio can author the disc to show its forced content ONLY ONCE, the FIRST time you play the disc.

Or NOT!  It's all up to the Studio, and they are free to make different choices on different discs.

The Studios would prefer not to refer to such stuff as "forced" content, of course.  Instead, it is "legal" content -- such as the Copyright Warning Slides.  Or it is "protected" content.

What's "protected" content, you ask?  Yep.  It's the commercials.

Or as the Studios would prefer to call THEM, their "Preview Trailers".  The Marketing assumption being, of course, having bought THIS disc, you surely MUST be eager to see other movies from them as well.  Gee!  If only there were some way to let you know about those other movies!

This gets particularly weird when watching older discs, such as early SD-DVDs, since the Preview Trailers they force you to watch may very well be for movies (and discs) which are no longer even available!  The "BD Live" Internet feature added in the Blu-ray specifications addresses that.  At the modest expense of setting up a Studio server to deliver the content, Studios can now author Blu-ray discs to fetch and show you NEW trailers -- over the Internet -- for their latest movies -- regardless of how old your current disc might happen to be.

(Indeed it's only lack of agreement on the money which keeps Studios from showing commercials for, oh, laundry suds, or mouthwash on their discs....)

So the tools are all in place, and the Studios just need to decide how much, and how forcefully, they want to push their Marketing message on any given disc.

For example, how MANY Trailers will they show before giving you a chance to play the Feature.

And is there a way to skip over ALL of them at once?  And if not, can you skip to the end of EACH of them in turn?

I've viewed discs with no, or just one Trailer.  I've also viewed discs with EIGHT -- which can be quite a slog to get through!

As for the skipping:  It is pretty common you can not skip over the initial, animated Logo for the Studio, nor skip over the Warning Slides.  But a number of Studios do let you skip over ALL their Trailers and get right to the disc's setup and playback menu (called Root Menu on SD-DVD discs, and Top Menu on Blu-ray and UHD discs).  Typically this would be done by pressing the Menu or Top Menu button on your player's Remote.

If there's no option to skip over ALL the Trailers, you may be able to speed up the process of getting through them.  Typically you would try Chapter Forward as soon as each Trailer starts.  But some discs block Chapter Forward.  The next resort would be Fast Forward -- at the fastest speed your player allows.  The player will likely drop out of Fast Forward at the end of each such Trailer, so you'll have to redo it for each of them.

Again, it's up to each Studio, and they are under no obligation to be consistent across their various discs.

For example, Fox Studios takes a particular egregious approach in the authoring of their "Rental Special" discs -- discs specifically produced to sell to outfits like Netflix for use as rentals.  The Fox Rental Specials typically have a ton of Trailers, and they do their darnedest to make sure you have to watch *ALL* of them.  You can not skip past them as a bunch.  Nor can you Chapter Forward past each in turn.  NOR can you Fast Forward through each in turn.

And they make you do this EACH TIME you load the disc, not just the first time!

Seriously.  Even if you stop a movie part way, and want to get back into it to see the rest, these discs typically do *NOT* implement Resume Play.  You will have to watch ALL those disc load time commercials, all over again, and then, manually, find your way back to where you left off in the Feature!

The technical term for this approach is -- YUCK!

However, RETAIL discs from Fox are not nearly so nasty!  I.e., they've deliberately chosen to make their Rental Special discs maximally annoying -- evidently in the belief customers, having been subjected to all that, will (unaccountably) still be EAGER to get more discs from Fox.  Just -- not as RENTALS!

I mentioned above another category of operations which can be blocked by PUOs:  Player functions which alter what you see on the screen -- any sort of Zoom feature being the prime example.

In my experience, folks get PARTICULARLY puzzled why they can't do things like Zoom on a given disc.  In some cases this can be due to technical difficulties.  For example, it is quite hard for a disc player to do Zoom correctly while playing a 3D movie.

But sometimes Zoom is blocked as a PUO.  Why?  It's often hard to be sure, but the typical reason would be the Studio had implemented some sort of fancy graphics features during the playback of the movie -- the sorts of things enabled by the BD Java programming language for Blu-ray and UHD discs.  So you might have a movie which displayed animated "subtitle" graphics during playback -- or a fancy "time line" which would show when the movie was Paused or you were navigating through it -- or a Picture-in-Picture feature displaying a 2nd video stream on top of the normal, Feature video.  It should be evident that Zooming into the Feature could screw up how well such things worked.

So rather than take the time to design them to work, even when Zoomed, and to TEST the results when used with Zoom on various players, the Studio might decide to take the far simpler approach of just blocking Zoom outright.

Well what can you DO about all this?  Not much as it turns out.

As mentioned above, licensed disc players have to enforce the PUOs.  However, even though they must enforce the letter of the PUOs, they need not enforce their spirit!

So for example, some disc players have implemented special disc navigation features which have the effect of bypassing the PUOs.  The most common is an otherwise unused button -- say "Yellow" button on a Blu-ray player -- which has the effect of jumping directly to the longest playlist on the disc (in the hope this will be the Feature movie).  Since this is not one of the standard player operations, it is not included in the list of potential PUOs the Studio might select.  So, again, the player is not violating its licensing.  (You'll likely need to do some digging on-line to discover if YOUR player has any hidden tricks, like this, up its sleeve.)

But as I previously detailed in my post on BD Java and Resume Play, the Studios have taken to using "False Playlists" managed by the BD Java program authored onto the disc, which effectively blocks THAT trick.

Some folks take to copying the content from their purchased discs, and playing it back as media files.  I won't get into any of that now, except to mention the copying programs typically offer a choice to remove PUOs as part of the copying process.

And some folks play their discs on hardware which is not a licensed disc player -- such as with software running on their computer.  And again, it is possible for such software to ignore PUOs.

But for most folks, PUOs are just a fact of life.  My recommendation would be you just relax and live with them.  It really doesn't take all that long to get through the Trailers in most cases where you can't skip past them, either all at once or one at a time.  And again, this is a per disc issue, not some issue with your disc player.

However, umm, you MAY just want to swear off discs like those Fox Rental Specials!