If you’re a Dish Network customer who enjoys the Auto Hop ad-skipping technology built into the company’s Hopper Whole-Home DVR, you may be reading this morning’s headlines with a frowny-face. News outlets like the Wall Street Journal are reporting that the satellite provider and Disney-owned ABC have reached an agreement to curtail ad-skipping on ABC shows, which puts an end to that particular battle between the two corporations. The news isn’t quite as bad as the headlines would have you believe, though.
First, for you non-Dish customers in the audience, perhaps an explanation of Auto Hop is in order. The Hopper includes a feature called “PrimeTime Anytime,” which sets aside 230 GB of DVR storage (out of a user accessible 1.23TB partition on the device’s 2TB internal hard drive) and automatically records all primetime programming from the four major broadcast networks. Those programs are saved for eight days by default, but you can also save store them in your user accessible partition permanently.
Whether you save the shows to your DVR partition or view them straight from the PrimeTime Anytime folder, if you want to skip commercials on the night a show airs, you have to press the skip button yourself in thirty-second increments. But sometime during the wee hours of the morning after the show airs, Auto Hop is enabled. So if you cue up the new episode of Hannibal on Saturday or New Girl on Wednesday, you’re met with a pop-up window that asks if you’d like to automatically skip the commercials. And yes, now that you ask, I certainly would.
As part of the new deal inked with Disney, though, Dish will now delay Auto Hop functionality on ABC programming until three days after a show hits the airwaves. Why three days? According to the Wall Street Journal story by Shalini Ramachandran (which is behind a paywall, sorry), it’s “because advertisers pay for TV audiences measured up to three days after a show is broadcast.”
Which isn’t so bad when you think about it. I often watch recorded programs a week or more after they air. So this deal is sort of a win-win: ABC drops its litigation against Dish, and those of us who like to skip commercials without constant button-pressing just have to wait a few extra days for the privilege.
It’s also a big win in another respect for Dish, because as part of the deal the satellite provider nabbed the online video rights to Disney’s big cable channels, which will allow for the creation of an internet-based TV service. That’s kind of huge; it’s something that Apple has reportedly been trying to do for ages, it’s something that Intel desperately tried to make a reality with its OnCue service, and Dish just made it happen.
So in the end, this is one of those rare corporate squabbles in which both parties got pretty much what they wanted without looking evil. And customers didn’t suffer a bit (unless you find that extra two-day wait before you can automatically skip commercials excruciating).
There’s no word yet on whether or not the other major broadcasters – FOX, CBS, and NBC – would be willing to strike similar deals with Dish Network. And I would imagine some sort of agreement with those broadcasters would be necessary if Dish wants its Internet-based TV service to succeed. But if similar deals can be worked out across the board, there may yet be hope for traditional linear TV. For now, at least.