15 May 2012

Deranged TV Network Execs Contemplate Going To Court To Say Skipping Commercials Is Illegal

from the that-won't-go-over-well dept

by Mike Masnick: Late last week Charlie Ergen and the folks at Dish Networks presented the TV networks with a bit of a conundrum. You see, the company decided to actually give consumers what they want: setting up a special DVR system, called Auto Hop, that would let viewers not just automatically DVR the entire primetime lineup of all the major networks with the single push of a button -- but also to automatically skip commercials when watching the playback, as long as it wasn't the same day the shows aired. This is something that consumers clearly want -- which Dish execs were pretty upfront about:
“Viewers love to skip commercials,” Vivek Khemka, vice president of DISH Product Management, said in a statement
But, of course, who is a consumer in this market gets complicated pretty fast. The TV networks, of course, make a fair bit of money from advertising on these shows, and they're not happy about any idea that means people might skip commercials. Those of you who have been around for a bit may recall a few relevant stories. First, there was Jamie Kellner, the former chair of Turner Broadcast Systems, who once claimed that walking away from your TV while commercials aired was a form of theft. Then, of course, there was the famous ReplayTV case. If you don't recall, ReplayTV was an early competitor to TiVo, and in many regards a better product. Among its features, it took an already considered legal feature from VCRs called "commercial skip" and added it to DVRs. The industry sued, in large part because of this feature, which they considered to be breaking the law.

Of course, the expense of the lawsuit resulted in Replay's parent company SonicBlue declaring bankruptcy. It then sold off the remains to D&M, who tried relaunching a version of the productwithout all the cool features people liked, and it went nowhere. Eventually, DirecTV bought the remnants. However, the basic lawsuit died out with the bankruptcy. A bunch of ReplayTV users, led by Craig Newmark from Craigslist, actually tried to continue the case on their own, to have those features declared legal, but after the networks promised not to sue those users for using the features, the judge tossed the case.

Left unresolved, of course, is whether or not features like commercial skip are actually legal.

As some are pointing out, the TV networks may have missed a golden opportunity by not continuing the fight against Craig and the other users, since they wouldn't be able to afford the bigtime lawyers that Ergen and Dish can easily toss out here. So the TV networks basically have to make the decision if this is really a battle worth fighting.

It does seem clear that the anti-consumer folks who run the TV networks would certainly like to slap Dish around for this move:

"I think this is an attack on our eco-system," said NBC Broadcasting chairman Ted Harbert on a conference call Monday. "I'm not for it."
Isn't it just like NBC to think that a tool that the public actually finds useful is an "attack" on their ecosystem? At some point, in the way, way distant future, perhaps we'll live in an age where companies like NBC Universal recognize that, when things are more efficient and easier for consumers, it is a good thing, rather than something to freak out about and declare evil?



  1. Angelo, I like your conclusion that whatever is easier for people is what will eventually be catered to. I find it terribly inconvenient when I‘m watching my show and I have to get up to dig in the chair cushions because the remote fell down in the recliner. Auto Hop makes my life easier when I can press one button for commercial skipping. One of my Dish co-workers always says, “I get enough commercials when I’m watching TV at work.”

    1. Well said gman. We should throw out virtually all law and leave only freedom from aggression and protection of personal (physical not imaginary) property. Note article by Mike Masnick

  2. Why don’t CBS, FOX, and NBC exec want consumers to enjoy commercial-free TV? It’s what we want! I’m a customer and employee of Dish, and I think AutoHop is great because you can easily watch commercial-free TV. A well known consumer advocacy group, Public Knowledge, agrees that people should have the right to control how they watch TV. They’re taking a stand for consumers by creating a petition that tells CBS, FOX, and NBC media to keep their hands out of your living room and DVR. Sign their petition to keep control of how you watch TV http://bit.ly/KFdn1Q