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.
While 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.”
-- Joe Flint
Photo: Peter Rice. Credit: Fox