Sunday, May 27, 2012

Dish Network sued by networks over ad-skipping "AutoHop" feature

DVR users are well familiar with skipping ads, either using fast-forward or the "skip-ahead" feature that leaps ahead in 30-second increments. However, Dish Network new multi-room DVRs will feature a function called "AutoHop," that automatically - sans user intervention - skips ads on shows aired by CBS, NBC, ABC, and FOX, and that has translated into lawsuits.
Satellite TV provider Dish has a new multi-room DVR dubbed "Hopper." The "AutoHop" feature, when enabled, replaces the ad cluster on recorded shows with a black screen as a separator, for just a few seconds, then returns to the programming. It's like standard ad-skipping on steroids.

It doesn't, however, work on recordings of live shows such as sporting events. Hopper costs $10 per month, just $4 more than Dish’s standard DVR.

With that, CBS, FOX and NBC have - independently - filed lawsuits against Dish Network, claiming its service "AutoHop" violates copyright laws. FOX even goes still further, saying that AutoHop is "destroying the fundamental underpinnings of the broadcast television ecosystem."

Dish quickly responded, filing its own lawsuit. Dish sued FOX, CBS, ABC and NBC, and asked a federal judge to declare that Auto Hop violates no copyright laws. Dish's statement on the matter said, "The suit asks for a declaratory judgment that the AutoHop feature does not infringe any copyrights that could be claimed by the major networks, and that Dish, while providing the AutoHop feature, remains in compliance with its agreements with the networks."

David Shull, Dish senior vice president of programming, added the following: “Viewers have been skipping commercials since the advent of the remote control; we are giving them a feature they want and that gives them more control. We don’t believe AutoHop will substantially change established consumer behavior, but we do believe it makes the viewing experience better."

In a sense, we can see where both sides are coming from. With "AutoHop" enabled, there is no chance to see any part of an ad. Even when skipping a set of commercials with a standard DVR, there is always a chance that a user will see something interesting and back up the DVR to see the ad.

Dish is correct, though, in that ad-skipping is the norm for those with DVRs. We, ourselves, although occasionally backing up to watch a commercial, would say that we watch virtually no ads, and that the most common type of ad for us to watch is a movie trailer.

However, eliminating ads hardly seems like a violation of copyright. It could, however, cause a massive sea change for the four broadcast networks, who rely on ads to pay for programming, in contrast to cable networks such as HBO, which rely on subscriptions (although there are plenty of unaffected ad-supported cable networks which have probably issued sighs of relief over the fact that the "AutoHop" only works on the Big Four broadcast networks - for now).

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