Entertainment Industry

Category: Dish Network

Upfronts 2012: Fox isn't happy about Dish's ad-zapping Auto Hop

NEW YORK -- Add Fox Networks Group Chairman Peter Rice to the growing list of television executives upset about satellite broadcaster Dish Network's new Auto Hop commercial-skipping feature.

"It seems a strange thing to do," Rice said about Dish's new feature, which allows users to literally black out commercials from shows that are broadcast on ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox and then watched at least one day after their original airing.

Peter RiceWhile consumers with digital video recorders can fast-forward through commercials of recorded shows, the Auto Hop takes it a step further. The screen goes black when a commercial break appears and a few seconds later, the program returns. The service can't be used on live programming, such as a sporting event, that has been recorded.

With more than 14 million subscribers, Dish Network Corp.'s new technology is of great concern to the networks and advertisers.

Rice, who was speaking with reporters on a conference call Monday to announce Fox's fall schedule, noted that broadcast networks such as Fox are the largest content providers to pay-TV distributors such as Dish, and wondered why Dish would risk alienating that relationship. As for whether the network will consider some sort of legal action to try to derail Dish's new commercial-zapping offering, Rice said Fox is "still evaluating it."

On Sunday, NBC Broadcasting Chairman Ted Harbert also expressed frustration over Dish's Auto Hop, calling it "an attack on our ecosystem."

The NBC executive took it a step further Monday during the network's presentation of its fall schedule to advertisers at Radio City Music Hall. After talking in great detail about the billions NBC and its parent company Comcast Corp. have spent on sports programming, such as the National Football League and the Olympics, as well as hundreds of millions on comedies and dramas, Harbert called the Auto Hop an "insult" to that investment.

"Just because technology gives you the ability to do something, does that mean you should?  Not always," Harbert said.

Dish's new technology, which was announced last week, is only offered for use on broadcast programming, not shows from cable networks. A Dish spokesman said there was no technological reason that Auto Hop wouldn't work on cable but that it was being offered for use only on broadcast shows because those are most popular with Dish customers.

This is not the first time such a technology has been launched. Several years ago, a service called Replay did virtually the same thing. The broadcast networks sued and won on copyright infringement grounds.

A Dish spokesman said the satellite broadcaster "believes that consumers deserve a choice when it comes to television viewing and Dish’s Auto Hop feature is all about choice. Viewers have been skipping commercials since the advent of the remote control; we are simply making it easier.”


Dish's Auto Hop makes skipping commercials even easier

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

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Peter Rice. Credit: Fox

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.


Dish's Auto Hop feature makes skipping commercials even easier

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-- Joe Flint

Photo: NBC Broadcasting Chairman Ted Harbert. Credit: NBC

Dish's Auto Hop feature makes skipping commercials easier

The Auto Hop lets people skip commercials
Satellite broadcaster Dish Network has introduced a new feature that makes it even easier for viewers to skip commercials.

Called "Auto Hop," the device automatically skips commercials in recorded prime-time programming from broadcast networks CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox -- provided the shows are watched at least one day after their scheduled airing. Auto Hop does not work on live programming.

"Viewers love to skip commercials," said Vivek Khemka, Dish's vice president of product management. "It's a revolutionary development that no other company offers and it's something that sets Hopper above the competition." Dish Network Corp. has more than 14 million subscribers in the United States.

The broadcast networks may not see it that way. There is already concern about the rapid growth of digital video recorders that give consumers the option to fast-forward through commercials. The Auto Hop takes it a step further and literally blocks the commercials from being seen even in a sped-up fashion.

The Auto Hop is part of Dish's PrimeTime Anytime feature on its DVR, called the Hopper. The PrimeTime Anytime feature automatically records the prime-time programming of the four major broadcast networks and stores the content on a rolling basis for eight days.

ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox declined to comment on the Auto Hop.

Interestingly, the Auto Hop is only being offered for use on broadcast networks and not cable channels such as TNT, USA and FX. A Dish representative said more than half of all recorded programs are broadcast shows and that there are no plans to offer the product for cable as well, although the technology would allow for that. Cable channels typically have heavier commercial loads than broadcast television.

A previous effort at a similar device was torpedoed by the television industry. Replay TV, a recording device, also offered an automatic skipping function. The networks and studios sued and won on copyright infringement grounds.


Dish says it is dropping AMC Networks

Dish Network looks to reinvent itself

Dish to distribute new Univision channels

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Dish's Auto Hop service. Credit: Dish Networks.



Dish says it is dropping AMC Networks

Dish subscribers may lose Breaking Bad
Dish subscribers who love AMC's "Breaking Bad" may be out of luck if a feud between the satellite broadcaster and the cable channel's parent AMC Networks isn't resolved soon. 

Besides AMC, home to "The Walking Dead," "Breaking Bad" and "Mad Men," other channels that could be dropped include WE, which caters to females, and IFC and Sundance, which focus primarily on independent cinema. Dish's contract with AMC Networks is up at the end of June. Dish has just over 14 million subscribers around the country.

Dish Network Corp. said it is dropping the channels because the ratings for the networks do not justify a rate increase that it says AMC Networks is seeking. Dish also said it was not happy that shows such as "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad" are made available on other platforms such as Netflix and iTunes soon after the shows have aired on AMC.

However, AMC is not the only network whose content appears on other platforms soon after a cable run. Some shows may appear on Netflix or iTunes within days of a cable run. In other cases though, shows are held off of other platforms until after the season ends.

In a statement, AMC said Dish's plans to drop the channels has nothing to do with the performance of its networks or their cost, but instead with another legal battle the two companies are in.

In 2008, Voom HD, a now-defunct group of cable channels owned by AMC, sued Dish for $2.5 billion for breach of contract. The case is wending its way through the courts and last week Dish lost an appeal, which AMC said is the cause for the bad blood.

"It is unfortunate that, because of setbacks in an unrelated litigation, Dish even suggests that they might deny their customers access to some of their favorite networks and shows that are offered by every other major satellite and cable TV provider," AMC said.

Dish responded that the Voom litigation is a "separate matter" and that AMC's statement "distorts the facts of the current situation and incorrectly attempts to tie together two separate issues."

Fans of "Mad Men" who are Dish subscribers don't have to worry. The show will have ended its season before June 30.


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Photo: AMC's "Breaking Bad." Credit: Ursula Coyote / AMC.


Dish Network to distribute new Univision channels

The telenovela "Soy Tu Duena" ran on Univision.
Spanish-language media giant Univision Communications has secured Dish Network as a launch pad for its three new cable channels.

Since last spring, when Univision announced its new channel initiative, the New York media company has been searching for pay-TV companies to carry them. On Monday, Univision and Dish said they had struck a long-term agreement for Dish to carry Univision's planned sports, telenovela and news channels when they go live in the coming months.

"This is a significant deal for Univision," said Tonia O'Connor, Univision's head of distribution, sales and marketing. "We are taking our most popular content and using it to launch cable networks."

The company's planned soap opera or telenovela channel is expected to start March 1 as part of Dish's Latino programming package. Called Univision tlNovelas, the new channel is expected to feature some of the most popular soaps from Mexico's programming powerhouse Grupo Televisa, which has an equity stake in Univision.

The other two channels are scheduled to go live in April. The sports channel, Univision Deportes, will feature Mexican Primera Division soccer matches and live coverage of FIFA events. The companies said the channel will be offered as part of one of Dish's most widely distributed packages, increasing the number of subscribers that will have access to it.

Also scheduled to launch in April is the Spanish-language cable news network Univision Noticias.  Designed to provide news from Mexico, Latin America and around the world, it will have more limited distribution, offered on Dish's Latino programming package.

The Univision-Dish deal is part of a trend of major U.S. media companies to bolster offerings that appeal to Latinos, the nation's fastest-growing demographic group. Last month, online video site Hulu announced a programming service to better reach Spanish speakers.

“We are pleased to have reached an innovative deal with Univision for their newest channels and their prime-time novelas on demand,” Dave Shull, Dish's senior vice president of programming, said in a statement.

The deal also represents Univision's first major foray into "authenticated" Internet distribution of its programming through a pay-TV provider. Dish customers will be able to access Univision's content online after registering and verifying that they are paying subscribers. Dish will stream the old telenovelas as part of Dish's Blockbuster@Home package.


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Photo: A scene from "Soy Tu Duena," a popular telenovela that ran on Univision. Credit: Antonio Uribe / Univision

Dish Network wants subscribers to swap free Starz for Cinemax

It looks like Dish Network is trying to make peace with pay cable channel Starz at the expense of Cinemax.

Earlier this year, Starz sued Dish after the satellite broadcaster started offering the channel free for one year to subscribers as part of a promotion. Now, Dish is pushing its 14 million subscribers to trade in their last three months of free Starz for free Cinemax.

The move by the satellite broadcaster comes one month after Starz said it would no longer make its content, including original shows and theatrical movies from Disney and Sony, available to Netflix. Distributors such as Dish are wary of Netflix and see it as a direct competitor. The decision to give Starz away for a year was seen by many industry observers as retribution for Starz's then cozy relationship with Netflix.

Whether the Starz for Cinemax offer will score Dish brownie points with Starz remains to be seen. A Dish spokesman said the legal battle between the two is ongoing.

There may not be many takers for Dish's offer. Cinemax does not have near the amount of original programming as Starz and the theatrical movies it carries have already run on sister service HBO.


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Dish and Blockbuster to offer new service to challenge Netflix

Seeking to challenge Netflix without undermining its own satellite television business, Dish Network has launched a new service, available only to its television subscribers, that will stream movies and TV and send DVDs by mail under its newly acquired Blockbuster unit.

Called "Blockbuster Movie Pass," the service includes DVDs and video games by mail along with 3,000 movies and television shows available to stream on TV and an additional 1,000 for computer. It will launch Oct. 1.

The offering costs $10 per month, the same price that Netflix previously charged for a combined streaming and DVD service before it unexpectedly raised the price in July, leading to a public outrage and the loss of an expected 400,000 subscribers by the end of September.

To entice new Dish subscribers, the Blockbuster Movie Pass will be free to them for the first year.

Because the new offering is only available to people who subscribe to Dish for at least $39.99 per month, its appeal may be low to those who are currently happy with their cable or DirecTV services or already use Netflix alone.

Dish Network, which has 14 million subscribers, acquired Blockbuster for $320 million in April at a bankruptcy court auction.

At a news conference held in San Francisco, Blockbuster President Michael Kelly said the company is working on a similar subscription offering for non-Dish subscribers that will launch in the future.

Acquiring movies and TV shows for such a service is costly, however, as Netflix investors have learned. But because Blockbuster Movie Pass is tied to a Dish subscription, the company can offer content to which it already has the rights to through program deals for its satellite TV business.

Netflix currently offers more than 12,000 movies and TV shows for its streaming subscribers, significantly more than Dish has. It also has signed some exclusive agreements for series like "Mad Men" and movies from independent studios including Relativity Media.

But Blockbuster Movie Pass will have a key advantage: Walt Disney Studios and Sony Pictures movies from Starz, which recently announced it will end its Netflix agreement when it expires in February. The Dish-Blockbuster offering will also have Paramount Pictures, Lionsgate, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer films from those studios' pay channel Epix, which also provides content to Netflix.

Blockbuster's television shows will come from networks including Fox, A&E, TNT and AMC.

In addition to getting DVDs, Blu-ray discs and video games through the mail, subscribers will be able to swap discs at the more than 1,500 Blockbuster stores still operating in the U.S.


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Photo: Blockbuster logo. Credit: Dish Network

Dish cheers Justice Dept.'s move to block AT&T-T-Mobile deal

Photo credit: Seth Perlman/Roberto Pfeil/AP The Justice Department's decision to sue to block the proposed $39-billion merger between AT&T and T-Mobile was met with cheers by Dish Network, the satellite television broadcaster that is also one of the largest owners of wireless spectrum in the nation.

"A combined AT&T/T-Mobile would harm consumers by reducing competition and by raising barriers to entry for potential new entrants like Dish Network," the company said in a statement.

Dish Network has spent almost $3 billion acquiring broadband spectrum. The company has been playing coy when asked if it plans to build a wireless business or flip the spectrum. Dish did ask the Federal Communications Commission to give it permission to combine its spectrum, which is seen as a precursor to trying to create a wireless business.

In its statement regarding the Justice Department's actions, Dish said it "believes its own efforts in seeking to enter the wireless broadband market will drive job creation and further stimulate competition and innovation."


Justice Dept. sues to block AT&T takeover of T-Mobile

Dish Network plans revamp of its business

Dish Network's Charlie Ergen gives up CEO title

-- Joe Flint 

Photo credit: Associated Press

Dish Network looks to reinvent itself

Dish Network's Joe Clayton

Dish Network is giving itself a makeover.

Over the last several months, Dish has been on a spending spree, gobbling up billions of dollars worth of wireless spectrum and acquiring bankrupt video store chain Blockbuster in a deal valued at $320 million.

On the surface, the moves seem unrelated, but Dish says it has a grand plan that includes launching a subscription streaming service to compete with Netflix and getting into the wireless communications business.

"We are putting together the building blocks to be able to provide a whole suite of services to the customer," Dish President and Chief Executive Joe Clayton said. "Wireless voice, broadband, video, mobile ... we're going to have the capability to do all of the above."

"What Dish has basically done is bought itself a lot of options to keep itself more relevant," Wells Fargo securities analyst Marci Ryvicker said.

Primarily a satellite broadcaster with 14.2 million subscribers (which makes it the third-largest multichannel video program distributor behind Comcast and DirecTV), its co-founder and chairman, Charlie Ergen, has expressed doubts about the long-term prospects for that business.

"My kids think I'm crazy for being in the pay-TV business because they don't pay for TV," Ergen told analysts in November. Noting the competition from not only cable and DirecTV but Netflix and the Internet, Ergen said, "The world is changing" and Dish has to "figure out how we can do things differently and how we can compete."

Still, some Wall Street analysts worry that the company may be biting off more than it can chew with its recent spending spree.

"It sounds ambitious, innovative and expensive," said Sanford Bernstein analyst Craig Moffett, who last month issued a report on Dish calling the stock a "leap of faith."


Dish Network spending spree part of plan to revamp its business  

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Dish CEO Joe Clayton. Credit: Joshua Duplechian / Rich Clarkson and Associates

Fox's Web strategy aims to appease cable, satellite distributors

Fox Broadcasting has made great headway in getting pay-TV distributors such as Time Warner Cable to cough up so-called retransmission consent fees in return for carrying its programming.

Now it's payback time.

The announcement from Fox on Tuesday that it would require consumers to prove they have a subscription with a multichannel video programming distributor (MVPD) -- what we used to call cable operators -- is being done primarily to appease the folks who own the wires that pipe programming into homes. The first big MVPD to sign on with Fox is Dish Network, the satellite broadcaster with 14.2 million subscribers.

In years past, broadcasters such as Fox were not able to get cold, hard cash from distributors. Instead, they launched new cable channels and got paid for them instead. Now with Fox, CBS, ABC and NBC desperate for new revenue streams and a glut of cable channels making the need for new ones nonexistent, the broadcast networks are finally getting compensated for their content.

If the MVPDs are paying broadcasters, then it is only natural that they won't want those same broadcasters to then put that content on the Web for free. In the case of Fox's new approach, content will stay behind a pay wall for eight days after it airs on the network. After that, it will be available to all. Don't be surprised if ultimately that eight-day window goes away too.

This approach is not very different from the one distributors take with cable networks such as USA or FX, and if broadcasters want to start getting paid the same way cable networks do, then they will have to play by the same rules.

Much has been made about what Fox's strategy says about the future of Hulu, the online video site launched by Fox parent News Corp. along with Walt Disney Co. and NBCUniversal. Hulu used to give everything away for free and now is moving toward a pay model.

Hulu was developed not only to give the entertainment industry an online platform; it was also built to reduce piracy even if it meant giving it away for free.

Like Woody Allen's character in his old movie "Take the Money and Run" who keeps getting his glasses broken by bullies until he finally starts breaking them himself when confronted, the entertainment companies figured if they were going to be pirated anyway, they might as well do it themselves.

It is likely that the other broadcast networks will adopt a similar approach to what Fox is doing. Otherwise, they will have a hard time getting those big retransmission consent fees from distributors.

There is, of course, concern about content that was once free online now being available only to those who pay.

"This development is very unfortunate for consumers and ultimately will be self-destructive for the TV industry," said Gigi Sohn, president of media advocacy group Public Knowledge, who added that the move will invite "consumers to go back to stealing content."

However, there is no law that says content that is paid for on one platform must be free on another.

On top of that, Fox and the other broadcast networks are still available free to consumers who don't subscribe to an MVPD. Just make sure to watch when it is on or you will have to wait a week or so to watch it online. There are worse things in life.


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-- Joe Flint


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