5:00 PM -- As if retransmission battles between operators and programmers weren't white-hot enough, Dish Network Corp. launched Auto Hop on Thursday. It's a feature for the Hopper HD-DVR that skips commercials that were captured by PrimeTime Anytime.
As a reminder, PrimeTime Anytime
records all of the prime-time programming of ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC and stores it for eight consecutive days. Now, Auto Hop comes in to do its magic at 1 a.m. ET after a show has been recorded to the PrimeTime Anytime library.
(See Dish Relaunches Itself With Hopper.)
Dish is being pretty blunt about why it's doing this. "Skipping commercials seems like a national past-time," Dish VP of Product Management Vivek Khemka said in a Thursday afternoon conference call, reminding everyone that Dish DVRs already come with a handy-dandy 30-second skip button. "We’re just making it easier."
Dish President and CEO Joe Clayton even proclaiming that Auto Hop is what "consumers have been waiting for since the dawn of television."
Well, almost. ReplayTV, a DVR pioneer that went bankrupt, had a similar, optional feature called "Commercial Advance." It also had "Send Show," a feature which let users shuttle copies of programmers to other ReplayTV users via the Internet -- and which drew lawsuits from programmers including HBO.
Dish similarly seems to be begging for a legal fight with the broadcasters, confident that consumers will rush to its side. "We're giving the consumer what he wants," Clayton said, suggesting that any broadcaster that tried to counter Auto Hop would be in for "a pretty big battle."
And this may be just the tip of the iceberg as retransmission disputes go. Auto Hop applies to four broadcasters and the prime-time window right now.
Nothing is preventing Dish from extending that to any channel or time on the lineup, Clayton said.
It's not clear what legal recourse the broadcasters might have, should they seek an injunction. The courts let consumers manipulate content they've paid for but stop short of letting distributors do the manipulating for them, analyst Craig Moffett of Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Inc. points out in a research note.
Dish declined to say how Auto Hop works, but Moffett suspects that the technology bookmarks the "fingerprints" where ads are inserted into a program. If that's true "it could certainly be argued to be a manipulation of the content stream by the distributor," he wrote.
Let the lawsuit countdown begin.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable