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DISH's Auto Hop Release Results in Lawsuits Involving "The Big 4" Networks
TAMPA, Fla., May 25 - FOX is the first of the major networks to file a lawsuit against DISH in the wake of their new Auto Hop commercial-skipping feature. This new concept allows customers who use the Hopper’s PrimeTime Anytime feature, which records all primetime programming 7 days a week on the 4 major networks, to skip all commercials entirely when watching recorded content the day after the shows are recorded. Executives from ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC immediately expressed their disapproval of Auto Hop upon its release, which they argue infringes on copyright laws.
Do you think DISH's Auto Hop feature is legal or illegal?
According to an article on CNN’s TheWrap.com, CBS CEO Les Moonves responded by saying, “They can’t put our content on without commercials. They just can’t do it. It’s illegal.” He also noted the possibility of a lawsuit, stating, “I hope it doesn’t come to that, but you never know.”
Others seem less concerned with legality and more concerned by what they see as a potential disruption to the advertising-supported nature of pay television services.
Ted Harbert, broadcasting chair of NBC, responded to the release of DISH’s Auto Hop feature by calling it “an insult” to television networks and their advertisers. A New York Times article notes that Paul Lee, the president of ABC Entertainment Group, joined forces in stating, “Ads are the key to our business, so we’re not supportive of anything that doesn’t support our advertisers."
FOX’s chairman of entertainment Peter Rice had remained relatively ambiguous with his initial commentary, simply noting, according to a Los Angeles Times article, that the Auto Hop “seems a strange thing to do” and said that FOX was “still evaluating it.”
The evaluation resulted in a plan of action. As of Thursday, May 24, FOX has begun litigation proceedings against DISH in a suit that claims copyright violation and breach of contract. A separate Los Angeles Times article spells out the details of the suit and adds that DISH has, in return, filed their own suits against all 4 networks and is asking a federal judge to declare that their Auto Hop feature violates no copyright laws.
The feature is not actually the first of its kind. ReplayTV, a DVR-service whose assets were bought by DirecTV after bankruptcy, released a similar service in 2001 that was declared illegal when similar suits were brought against the company. DISH may have kept this in mind when creating the Auto Hop feature, which only allows viewers to skip primetime recorded programming and only after 1 AM the morning after the shows have been recorded. Additionally, the feature is not functional during sporting and other special events, even if it meets the Auto Hop recording criteria.
Senior vice president of DISH David Shull argues that Auto Hop is simply a modernized version of the fast-forward feature offered with all DVR services and gives customers more control. “We don’t believe Auto Hop will substantially change established consumer behavior,” he said, “but we do believe it makes the viewing experience better.” Vice president Vivek Khemka also makes the case for Auto Hop, arguing that the ability to control access to programming will actually encourage more network engagement on behalf of the consumers, not less.
About the Author
Katie Schwener is a reporter for Satellite Solutions Network, Inc., a DISH sales partner located just outside of Tampa, Florida. SSN takes new DISH customer orders and is currently offering incentives for those interested in the Hopper and Joey whole-home HD-DVR system.