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NBC Broadcasting head no fan of Dish's commercial-skipping device

New York -- NBC Broadcasting Chairman Ted Harbert is not a fan of satellite broadcaster Dish Network's new commercial-skipping device, the Auto Hop, which automatically deletes commercials from recorded prime-time programming from the four big broadcast networks.

"I think this is an attack on our eco-system," Harbert said on NBC's conference call announcing the network's 2012-13 prime-time schedule. "I'm not for it."

NBC Broadcasting Chairman Ted HarbertHarbert declined to comment on whether NBC or its parent Comcast Corp. was preparing any sort of legal response to Dish Network Corp.'s new technology. He did say he would have an elaborate message to advertisers and Dish on Monday at Radio City Music Hall when the network presents its fall schedule to advertisers.

Introduced last Thursday, Dish's Auto Hop is a component of Dish's PrimeTime Anytime feature on its digital video recorder service, which is called the Hopper. The Anytime feature automatically records the prime-time programming of CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox and stores the content on a rolling basis for eight days.

Viewers who use the PrimeTime feature can use the Auto Hop to literally black out commercials, provided the programs are watched the day after their original airing. The way it works is that the customer pushes a button and then when a commercial break appears, the screen goes black for a few seconds and then the program returns. The Auto Hop can't be used on live programming such as a sporting event that has been recorded.

Dish, which has more than 14 million subscribers, is already starting to heavily market the device, even tweeting about it.

The broadcast networks have so far stayed mum about the Auto Hop but in the past have expressed great concern about any device that allows consumers to bypass commercials. While digital video recorders allow a viewer to fast-forward through spots, the commercial images still play on the screen, albeit faster. The Auto Hop gets rid of the advertisements altogether.

The Auto Hop is being offered by Dish for use only on broadcast programming, not for shows on cable networks, even though that is technically possible. A Dish spokesman said the reason it is limited to broadcast shows is because those are the shows most frequently recorded by consumers. Whether that decision to offer the device only for a handful of channels provides fodder for a lawsuit will no doubt be revealed in the weeks ahead.

Several years ago, the networks sued over a similar device called Replay TV and won on copyright infringement grounds.

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-- Joe Flint

Photo: NBC Broadcasting Chairman Ted Harbert. Credit: NBC

 
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