While DISH Network’s ad-skipping Hopper DVR may be popular with viewers, the TV networks certainly don’t like it.
Earlier this year, U.S.-based DISH Network released its Hopper DVR – a device that enables people to watch commercial-free TV.
The Hopper has a feature called PrimeTime Anytime that allows up to six channels to be simultaneously recorded and can be set to automatically zap the commercials during playback – a feature DISH calls AutoHop. “Hate commercials? DISH created commercial-free TV so you can save an hour each night! Now you can automatically skip commercials in primetime TV on ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC,” says the DISH website.
Needless to say, DISH’s Hopper has irked the TV networks and Fox, NBC, CBS and Comcast have each sued the company.
However, in the first case to be heard, the U.S. District Court for California’s Central District has rejected Fox’s request for a preliminary injunction to disable the technology saying it violates neither copyright laws nor DISH’s agreement with Fox. It was not, however, a complete victory as, according to a statement by DISH, the judge found that “Copies of Fox programs that DISH makes as part of its ‘quality assurance’ of AutoHop’s functionality likely violate the RTC between DISH and Fox, and likely violate Fox’s exclusive reproduction right under federal copyright laws.”
DISH Executive Vice President and General Counsel, R. Stanton Dodge called the ruling a victory for common sense and customer choice. “DISH is gratified that the Court has sided with consumer choice and control by rejecting Fox’s efforts to deny our customers access to PrimeTime Anytime and AutoHop — key features of the Hopper Whole-Home DVR,” he said. “The ruling underscores the U.S. Supreme Court’s ‘Betamax’ decision, with the court confirming a consumer’s right to enjoy television as they want, when they want, including the reasonable right to skip commercials, if they so choose.”
The decision has not yet been made public in order to protect confidential trade information, and a redacted version has yet to be published.
The 1984 Betamax case, to which Dodge referred, was a precedent-setting ruling in the United States which confirmed that recording for the purpose of time shifting was fair use and did not constitute copyright infringement. There are clear parallels between DISH’s service and VCR-based recording. There is, however, one major difference between VCR and even current DVR technology and DISH’s Hopper. While both older VCRs and modern DVRs enable commercial skipping (either by fast-forwarding or jumping by 30 second increments) a user of these devices has to actively choose to do so for each and every commercial. With DISH’s AutoHop system, ads are skipped automatically and without any action required from the user after the initial setup. This makes AutoHop recordings akin to watching commercial-free on-demand programs. If this became the norm, it could have a substantial impact on the networks’ ad revenues.
What do you think about this, Sync readers? Should companies such as DISH be allowed to zap the commercials? Could it lead to TV networks introducing other – more intrusive – forms of advertising? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.