Announced by Dish Network yesterday, the satellite television provider has launched a new feature on the Hopper whole-home HD DVR system that allows customers to skip over all commercials on the four major broadcast networks. When a subscriber plays a recorded television show from ABC, CBS, NBC or FOX, a prompt appears that offers the subscriber the option of stripping out the advertising breaks. Rather than manually fast-forwarding through the commercial break, the viewer will see a momentary black screen or the first frame of the first commercial before the DVR launches into the next segment of the program according to a first-hand account within the Wall Street Journal.
Dish Network management hopes that this new feature will set the company apart from competitors like DirecTV, Time Warner and TiVo. According to Dish Network VP of Product Management Vivek Khemka, he stated “Viewers love to skip commercials. 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.”
In order to enable the feature, it’s as simple as pushing a single button on the Hopper remote. This feature is exclusive to the Hopper, thus Dish Network charges $10 a month to rent the hardware compared to the standard $6 a month charge with the basic DVR model. The Hopper is specifically geared at consumers that watch a great deal of network television as Dish Network has dedicated one out of the three tuners to constantly record the last eight days of network television coverage on all four major networks. In addition to allowing the subscriber to record two more HD channels at any given time, content recorded on the Hopper can be fed to four, different small set-top boxes, the Joey, that are installed on other televisions around the house.
The Auto Hop feature is currently limited to the major networks though. For instance, a subscriber wouldn’t be able to automatically eliminate commercials on a program like The Daily Show on Comedy Central. The new feature also doesn’t work for any live broadcast that’s been recorded off a major network.
At the time of this article, none of the major networks have released a statement regarding the new feature on the Hopper. In the past, broadcasters have attempted to fight off commercial-skipping technology with some success. During 2001, the major networks filed a lawsuit against SONICblue, the company that sold the ReplayTV DVR device. The ReplayTV had a “Commercial Advance” feature that the networks disliked in addition to including a “Send Show” feature that transmitted copies of shows over the Internet to other ReplayTV owners.
With the launch of the Ad Hop feature, it’s possible that major networks will attempt to negotiate higher retransmission fees with Dish Network. Networks like FX, TNT and USA already receive these fees, but broadcast networks mostly rely on advertising to earn revenue. If that’s the case, Dish Network subscribers may be put in the position of losing out on broadcast networks during negotiation. This situation would be similar to the ongoing dispute between Dish Network and AMC.