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Battle over AutoHop isn't just about skipping commercials

September 13, 2012|By Joe Flint
  • An on-screen message for the AutoHop feature
An on-screen message for the AutoHop feature (Dish Network )

The battle between the broadcast networks and Dish Network over the satellite broadcaster's commercial-skipping feature known as the AutoHop is heating up again.

On Wednesday, CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves reiterated his earlier stance that if Dish continues to market the AutoHop (a feature on its digital video recorder that makes it very easy to eliminate commercials from recorded shows), the network will stop making its programming available to the satellite service.

Dish Chief Executive Joe Clayton has since fired back that the company is interested in giving consumers more choice and options in how they watch TV, and that CBS and the other networks are out of touch.

There's little debate that most viewers see commercials as an annoyance and that lots of people skip over them in recorded programming. However, commercials are also the primary source of revenue for the networks.

"I can't produce premium shows like 'CSI' without advertising," Moonves recently told the Los Angeles Times. The broadcast networks and Dish are now engaged in what promises to be a lengthy legal battle over whether the AutoHop somehow violates copyright law.

But this fight is not just about commercials. Dish only makes its AutoHop available for use for recorded prime-time shows broadcast by ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox. The AutoHop does not work for shows recorded from cable channels such as FX, Spike or TNT.

Dish has said the reason AutoHop is only available for broadcast programming is because that is the most popular content. Actually, many cable networks now have programming that gets ratings just as big as broadcast TV. Most cable networks also have far more commercials per hour than a broadcast channel, but Dish apparently isn't as concerned about customer choice when it comes to those channels.

In written testimony to Congress, Dish Network Chairman Charlie Ergen said the commercial-skipping feature also will help protect children from the marketing efforts of the fast-food and alcohol industries. There are far more ads for alcohol on cable than broadcast. 

The real motivation is leverage. Broadcast networks are increasingly demanding more money from pay-TV distributors such as Dish in return for carrying their programming. Dish can try to use the AutoHop to try to lower so-called retransmission consent fees.

Interestingly, no other pay-TV distributors are following Dish's lead by introducing their own AutoHop-like devices. Certainly they too have the same desire to keep consumers happy. At the same time though, they also recognize that there could be unintended consequences to messing with the TV ecosystem, especially when commercials can already be avoided by viewers without too much effort.

Ultimately, and this may come as a disappointment to those commercial-haters, the push to make content available on demand may do away with the digital video recorder. If network programming is available on demand at the same time or soon after it airs on the network, there will be no need for consumers to record it with their DVRs. The networks already put commercials in the on-demand versions of their shows and those ads, like the ones that run on shows watched via the Internet, can't be skipped.

In other words, if you are a Dish subscriber who is enjoying that AutoHop, don't get too used to it.

ALSO:

CBS CEO blasts AutoHop

CBS, NBC, Fox head to court over AutoHop

Dish Chairman says AutoHop shields kids from junk food and booze ads

Follow me on twitter @JBFlint

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