May 14, 2012

Dish Network Offers To Remove Commercials From Your TV

Dish Network is not making any friends with TV broadcasters this week with its latest offering called Dish Hopper. Dish Hopper is a fairly standard DVR that has a nifty feature called Prime Time Anytime, a capability that can automatically record all of prime time shows from ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC at the same time.

This would not be especially newsworthy except for an option of Prime Time Anytime called Auto Hop, which will automatically skip the commercials, turning the Hopper experience into something akin to Netflix, writes Mark Hachman for PC Mag.

Consumers merely have to click an on-screen Auto Hop button before a show to enable the feature. All that you will see is a black screen momentarily where the ads were broadcast, or a glimpse of the first frame of the first commercial. Then the show resumes.

"Viewers love to skip commercials," said Vivek Khemka, vice president of DISH Product Management in a prepared statement. "With the Auto Hop capability of the Hopper, watching your favorite shows commercial-free is easier than ever before. It's a revolutionary development that no other company offers and it's something that sets Hopper above the competition."

Hopper stores the shows for eight days after airing, leaving you with a running set of up to 100 hours of prime-time programming stored on your DVR, that you can watch commercial free.

Dish´s new feature is  certain to heighten tensions between TV network owners and pay-TV distributors, as well as cable and satellite operators and phone companies.

With rising programming costs, broadcasters have been pushing to get a larger share of “retransmission fees,” paid by the service providers that pipe or beam programming into homes. Traditionally, retransmission fees were paid almost entirely to cable channels, not broadcast networks, reports Shalini Ramachandran for Wall Street Journal.

An interview with Dish Chief Executive Joe Clayton revealed the tension over retransmission fees. “But that´s a separate issue,” he said. “The Auto Hop feature is all about the consumer.”

“This has been the Holy Grail of television viewers for 40 years,” Clayton acknowledged. “What´s wrong with giving the consumer what he wants? That´s my response to anybody who takes issue with this.”

Craig Moffett, who covers the cable and telco business for Bernstein Research, adds that whether the auto-skip feature can withstand legal challenge “remains to be seen.”

He notes that the feature looks a lot like one offered by ReplayTV, a defunct company that once competed head-to-head with TiVo, reports Eric Savitz for Forbes. Moffett recalls that ReplayTV was sued by the networks for their commercial skipping feature, but that the company went bankrupt before the case could be decided.

“Given the already long list of industry-unfriendly features promoted by Dish, one wonders if Auto Hop will be the final straw that provokes legal action from the broadcast networks,” Moffett writes.

“While we aren´t qualified to comment on the legal specifics, it´s likely that the merits of any legal action would come down to the technical specifics of how the commercial skipping takes place. The courts generally allow consumers to manipulate content that they´ve paid for as they see fit. But distribution companies can´t do the manipulating for them,” Moffett concludes.

The Hopper DVR costs Dish subscribers $10 a month in addition to a $99 up-front fee.