Orlando, Fla. - Satellite-TV provider
used its team summit here Thursday to announce the launch of a new commercial-skipping feature for the "Prime Time Anytime" component of its Dish Hopper DVR system.
The new function, called Auto Hop, will enable viewers to watch programs recorded via the Prime Time Anytime feature in the Dish Hopper product to completely bypass commercials without the need to use a remote skip button, provided they view the recordings after 1 a.m EST the morning after they originally aired.
The Hopper is Dish's whole-home DVR that was first unveiled at International CES in January. The device includes a 2TB hard drive and the aforementioned Prime Time Anytime feature which automatically records all of the prime time programs carried by ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX network affiliate stations every night and caches them for playback within an eight-day period.
All of Dish's previous DVR set-top devices have long had the ability to skip commercials using a 30-second jump button, but that required the viewer to manually advance the recording. The new system will play back a recorded program and automatically "hop" over the commercials with no further action required from the viewer.
In a conference call with reporters Thursday, Dish CEO Joe Clayton said the company applied the technology to Prime Time Anytime programming because that programming is automatically recorded for Hopper viewers each night and because Dish viewer surveys revealed that prime time network TV programming is the most watched fare on their system.
In order to use the system, viewers must manually opt in by selecting "Auto Hop" at the start of playback.
The feature does not work on live broadcasts and "at this time" will not be available beyond prime time programming from the four major networks.
Dish said it does not believe it is violating any intellectual property rights of broadcasters or advertisers with the system because, Dish does not touch the signal itself in any way and "Auto Hop is only trying to do what consumers would already do with the 30-second button or the fast forward button. We are just making it easier," said Vivek Khemka, Dish product management VP.
He explained that with Auto Hop, viewers can use the fast-forward or rewind button to play back commercials if they want to because the recorded signal is not altered.
Clayton said the technology would allow Dish to expand the capability to other programming, "if we so choose."
If programs are played back prior to 1 a.m. the next morning, commercials will be played as they normally would, although viewers would have the ability to skip over them with the 30-second jump button or fast forward button.
Dish declined to reveal exactly how the technology, which was developed by Dish sister company EchoStar, recognizes and jumps over a commercial in the regular programming.
Clayton said he did not expect the networks to impose any counter measures because "what we are trying to do here is give the consumer what he wants. If they want to fight that, it might be a fairly large sized battle."
Similarly, he said he doesn't know if broadcasters would start rewording their retransmission agreements with Dish to prevent the commercial skipping mechanism, adding that initial concern over the implementation of the Prime Time Anytime system was assuaged once broadcasters realized that their programs "got more visibility."
Asked if Dish would continue to find network TV advertising a valuable proposition if the commercial skipping feature became more pervasive, Clayton said: "There are lots of ways to advertise."