Video services

Dish Sticks It to the Broadcasters

5:00 PM -- As if retransmission battles between operators and programmers weren't white-hot enough, Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH) 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

Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 5:33:29 PM
re: Dish Sticks It to the Broadcasters

One caveat- the feature works for "most" broadcast shows recorded to the Primetime Anytime folder. Among the exempt situations, Dish tells me that it doesn't work for local shows, such as locally broadcasted sporting events or news shows.  JB

Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 5:33:28 PM
re: Dish Sticks It to the Broadcasters

It's a policy decision; no technical reason preventing it.

Heh, i think you'd be in the minority on that one, a lone voice in the woods. JB

AESerm 12/5/2012 | 5:33:28 PM
re: Dish Sticks It to the Broadcasters

Doesn't work for technical or policy reasons? 

BTW: Aren't there consumers out there (like me) who occasionally think that commercials are the only interesting thing on? Maybe I could be an expert witness here...

PeterPercosan 12/5/2012 | 5:33:27 PM
re: Dish Sticks It to the Broadcasters

This can only end great for everyone ... ugh.


craigleddy 12/5/2012 | 5:33:18 PM
re: Dish Sticks It to the Broadcasters

Nice reminder of ReplayTV and the s---storm that it created. Dish may be driving head-on into a train wreck, but can you deny their point about consumers wanting to skip commercials?

Many moons ago I hooked up my first TiVo and explained how it worked to my daughter, who was 5 years old at the time. She said, "Oh good, now I don't have to watch the ads." She was 5 years old, and she got it! Out of the mouths of babes.  

joanengebretson 12/5/2012 | 5:33:17 PM
re: Dish Sticks It to the Broadcasters

I think you'll see more content providers creating little bits of content to run in the middle of a string of ads (and pre-announcing it) so people will keep watching during the ads. I've seen a few people doing this already. I think I saw them do it on "Deadliest Catch."


AESerm 12/5/2012 | 5:33:08 PM
re: Dish Sticks It to the Broadcasters

Part of my point is that not everyone with DVRs skips commercials. I've seen references to studies saying 50% do, maybe even 68%? (Not sure how reliable these numbers are.) That still leaves lots of viewers not skipping. Do non-skippers like ad content? (As I mused.) Maybe not, but they tolerate it, as skipping can be a hassle. That's where the Dish app will gain ground, among those too lazy to skip. 

Sign In