Dish TV seems to be picking fights with…just about everyone. First it bumped AMC, home of Breaking Bad and Mad Men, to the no-man’s-land of channel 9609, while threatening to drop the net entirely on June 30 unless AMC stops charging so much to air its programming. But that’s nothing compared with the war it’s waging against CBS, ABC, Fox, and NBC. At issue: Dish’s new AutoHop capability on its DVRs, which allows its 14 million-plus subscribers to skip all of a show’s commercials with the single touch of a button. (The technology can only be used on prime-time broadcast shows recorded with Dish’s PrimeTime Anytime feature, and only after 1 a.m. the day following the original airing.) It’s unclear how many of Dish’s customers have sampled the patented technology since its May 10 debut, but it already has the broadcast nets hopping mad. At NBC’s upfront presentation last month in New York, broadcasting chairman Ted Harbert complained to advertisers that ”just because technology gives you the ability to do something, does that mean you should? Not always.” In an attempt to cut the networks off at the pass, Dish filed a suit first in hopes that a federal judge will rule the technology doesn’t violate copyright laws. So far, three of the nets have followed with suits of their own, with Fox claiming AutoHop is ”destroying the fundamental underpinnings of the broadcast television ecosystem” and that it must ”aggressively defend the future of free over-the-air television.” Oh, the drama!
On July 2, a federal judge will decide whether all the cases should be consolidated and, more important, in what city the fight should play out. (Dish filed in New York City, where courts have historically been more lenient on copyright issues; the networks have filed in Los Angeles.) That gives Dish plenty of time to craft an argument that AutoHop is legal — and simply an answer to customer demand. ”People have been fast-forwarding through commercials since the beginning of DVRs,” says Vivek Khemka, VP of product management. ”All we’re doing is simplifying the process.”