We've all seen the trope from films, TV series, books, and so forth about the evil villain (or dark hero in the case of V for Vendetta) who manages to take over all TV network broadcasts (cable/antennae), and spread their demands/propaganda against the hero (or evil government)/citizens of society.

Is this technically feasible (no matter how complex of an operation it could become)? How do networks/studios safeguard against pirate signals over-running their signals, and taking over live-broadcast air time? One would think simply having an "inside guy" at each target network would be all that was needed, but surely there are higher safeguards than that!

  • Always annoyed me in movies that. I mean the whole time Square screens thing is doable, one city at a time maybe but global signal domination is highly improbable. Also a bit outdated as a way to communicate with the world. Maybe they will update their method with streaming services or social media sites. That is probably more doable/believable
    – NuGGeT
    Jun 26 '20 at 11:53
  • apparently it's easy to hack a satellite, so maybe yes extremetech.com/extreme/…
    – Luciano
    Jun 26 '20 at 11:56
  • @NuGGeT hack networks and force an overlaying video playback. Jun 27 '20 at 23:07

This trope is quite old, and dates back to the days when practically all television content was received via aerial broadcast - think antennas on rooftops, receiving unscrambled, unecrypted content freely available to anyone with a receiver. For this delivery channel, it makes sense (for handwavey, techno-babble values of "sense") that with a big enough, strong enough antenna, you can create a multi-band signal that will overwhelm local signals on every wavelength and force your image onto any TV set, regardless of what frequency it's set to recieve.

These days, of course, things aren't nearly as uniform. A television set might recieve its contents from an aerial antenna, a coax cable, a satellite uplink sending scrambled content that uses the set top box's chip to decode, or a streaming site that pushes HTTPS-encrypted video through your internet connection's DSL, fiber or cellular/GSM connection. Or of course, your TV might be showing local content from a Blu-ray disk or video files on your local network or attached USB stick.

In this multi-modal scenario, taking over all signals is much less plausible. It requires taking over hundreds if not thousands of combinations of communication protocols, encodings and encryption.

So no. It doesn't make much sense, these days. But the trope, as tropes go, still stands. Because it's effective.

  • Good answer!! I suppose the complexity would allude to needing an “insider” at each target network/data center/cable/satellite provider to achieve this today. Jun 26 '20 at 22:30
  • But even if you control all cable and broadcast stations - how many people actually watch those? You can take over Netflix, but that's also only a part, and even if you replaced all movies at NEtflix with your stream, you'd still have to wait for the user to actualyl try to watch something Jun 26 '20 at 22:43
  • Unless you introduced backdoor malware injections into common home networks, then forcefully transmitted video playback over protocols such as Miracast or AirPlay to household TVs (hardly anyone has a dumb TV anymore), or video playback on home computers. Yeah it’d have to be darn-ridiculously smart malware, but nonetheless.... Jun 27 '20 at 23:10

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