The BBC was accused yesterday of Orwellian tactics after digital video machines in thousands of homes were switched on remotely to record Caroline Aherne's new sitcom Dossa and Joe. The move was described as the equivalent of junk mail.
Many of the 50,000 households that own TiVo machines awoke on Friday to discover that the 30-minute programme had been downloaded on to their recorders without having asked for it.
It is the first time a broadcaster has used the new technology to try to boost audiences for a show.
TiVo's selling point is its ability to "remember" to tape viewers' favourite programmes and similar shows, based on a list of preferences. However the BBC sent Dossa and Joe to all the machines regardless of preference.
Almost 1,000 messages have been posted on a web forum for TiVo users, many complaining that such "foul-mouthed rubbish" had been imposed on them.
Some were unhappy that they missed the start of the Ten O'Clock News last Thursday because the machine was still recording Dossa and Joe on BBC2. Others accused the BBC of breaching the 9pm watershed because children could watch the programme the next day.
TiVo is one of a new generation of digital video machines that record programmes on hard disk rather than tape. The BBC was able to send the episode because the machines are linked by telephone to a central database.
The BBC has high hopes for Dossa and Joe, about a retired Australian couple and starring the former Neighbours actress Anne Charleston. But the comedy, Aherne's first series since The Royle Family, has attracted fewer than 1.5 million viewers.
Granville Williams, of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, said: "This is an unwanted and unrequested intrusion into people's lives.
"Consumers were told that TiVo would give them greater control, yet exactly the opposite has happened here. Someone has decided, 'This is what you want to watch.' "