Battle Over Dish’s Ad-Skipping Begins as Networks Go to Court
Published: May 24, 2012
THE Dish Network and three television networks filed opposing lawsuits on Thursday over Auto Hop, a feature that allows Dish subscribers to automatically skip all the advertising during most prime-time shows.
The owners of the CBS, Fox and NBC networks accused Dish of copyright infringement in connection with the feature, which had been technically feasible for more than a decade but had not been offered to consumers by a major distributor until now.
The owner of the NBC network, NBCUniversal, said in a statement that the feature was “unlawful.”
“Dish simply does not have the authority to tamper with the ads from broadcast replays on a wholesale basis for its own economic and commercial advantage,” the company said.
Around the same time the networks were filing their suits in California, Dish was filing its suit in New York. The distributor asked for a ruling that Auto Hop “does not infringe any copyrights that could be claimed by the major networks, and that Dish, while providing the Auto Hop feature, remains in compliance with its agreements with the networks,” according to a news release from the company.
Dish included ABC in its suit. An ABC spokesman did not respond to a request for comment about whether it would also challenge Dish in court.
Last week, executives at all the major networks criticized Dish for introducing the Auto Hop technology, and some networks rejected Dish’s ads for the digital video recorder that includes it. This week, executives at a major cable distributor, Time Warner Cable, and a major media agency, Starcom MediaVest Group, also spoke out against Auto Hop.
By allowing viewers to remove all the ads with the touch of a button, the feature makes ad-skipping significantly easier to do — the very definition of disruptive technology.
In a statement about its lawsuit on Thursday, CBS said that Auto Hop “takes existing network content and modifies it in a manner that is unauthorized and illegal.” But Dish disputes that because the feature preserves the ads within the recording, even though it hides them from sight.
“This is something that the customers enable,” David Shull, the senior vice president of programming for Dish, said in a telephone interview after the lawsuits were filed. He called Auto Hop a consumer-friendly improvement on DVR technology, and pointed out that there was a window of several hours each night from the time that a show was broadcast to the time that Dish’s ad-skipping feature started to work.
Mr. Shull said that Dish had invited the networks to talk in detail about Auto Hop after it was announced in early May. But “in the background we heard rumors of lawsuits, so we felt we had to act here,” he said.
Last week, The New York Times reported that several network owners were examining whether they could sue Dish, the same way they sued to stop a similar ad-skipping feature a decade ago. That feature, by a DVR maker called ReplayTV, was effectively sued out of existence, according to analysts.
But Dish has much deeper pockets. Then again, as a major carrier of television programming, it also has deep relationships with the networks — and on Thursday evening, there were already fears that the networks could yank their popular programming from Dish in the future if the Auto Hop dispute was not resolved.
In its lawsuit, Fox sought damages for breach of contract as well as copyright infringement.
The network noted that Dish was one of its “largest distributors,” but said it had to take “swift action in order to aggressively defend the future of free, over-the-air television.”
- Dish’s “Auto-Hop” ad skipping device in legal showdown with TV networks (paidcontent.org)
- NBC Not Happy about Auto Hop Service on Dish Network (geeky-gadgets.com)
- Time Warner cable CEO sides with networks against Auto Hop (slashgear.com)
- NBC not happy about Dish Network Auto Hop (slashgear.com)
- FOX sues Dish Network over commercial skipping (lostremote.com)
- Dish Network’s Auto Hop Cuts Ads and Causes Tremors at TV Upfronts (nytimes.com)
- Dish’s Auto Hop feature makes skipping commercials easier (latimesblogs.latimes.com)
- Dish Network’s ‘Hopper’ Has TV Executives Seething (philadelphia.cbslocal.com)
- Ad zapper: Boon or bane of the TV business? (ctv.ca)
- New ad zapper has TV networks worried about sales (seattletimes.nwsource.com)