On the face of it, a DVR feature that allows viewers the chance to automatically skip over advertisements sounds like a win-win for everyone: The networks get to continue to sell ad time for the viewers who are watching in real-time (Everyone with DVRs already manually skips the commercials anyway, right…?), viewers get an easier way to avoid ads and Dish Network, the creator of “Auto-Hop”, gets new subscribers easy to take advantage of the new technology. So why has everything ended up in court less than two weeks after the announcement of the feature?
Today, Dish Network found itself being sued by Fox, CBS and NBCUniversal in separate lawsuits over the feature, while simultaneously launching its own lawsuit against the three networks and ABC to defend the legality of its creation. In a statement to the press, CBS explained its lawsuit as responding to a service that “takes existing network content and modifies it in a manner than is unauthorized and illegal. We believe this is a clear violation of copyright law and we intend to stop it.” Fox offered a similar explanation, with its statement saying that the broadcaster was “given no choice but to file suit against one of our largest distributors, Dish Network, because of their surprising move to market a product with the clear goal of violating copyrights and destroying the fundamental underpinnings of the broadcast television ecosystem. Their wrongheaded decision requires us to take swift action in order to aggressively defend the future of free, over-the-air television.”
NBC’s statement, however, was far more direct: “Advertising generates the revenue that makes it possible for local broadcast stations and national broadcast networks to pay for the creation of the news, sports and entertainment programming that are the hallmark of American broadcasting. 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.”
In response, Dish SVP of programming David Shull released his own statement, in which he said that “consumers should be able to fairly choose for themselves what they do and do not want to watch,” going on to make the eminently sensible point that “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.”
In Dish’s own complaint against the networks – viewable here – the company argues that what’s at stake is “freedom of consumer choice [and] individual families’ choice to elect, if they want, to time shift their television viewing and watch recorded television without commercials.” Pushing back against claims that its Hopper box essentially bootlegs signals from the broadcasters, Dish argues that it is simply the next generation of DVR and VCR viewing, tools which have offered the chance to avoid ads for decades by this point. “The DISH Auto Hop feature does not alter or modigy the broadcast signal,” it makes a point of stating, directly contradicting claims put forward in Fox’s suit against the company.
The networks’ suits were filed in the US District Court of Los Angeles, with the Dish suit filed in the US District Court of New York.