Dish Network allows users to skip commercials; NBC cries foul

Dish Network (opens in new tab), the direct-to-home satellite operator, has introduced a new DVR feature called “Auto Hop.” It allows viewers to skip past commercials in most recorded HD programs shown on ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC a day after the program airs.

Nicknamed the Hopper, Dish’s DVR allows subscribers to record all network shows with a single click. Auto Hop, Dish said, is an extension of the operator’s Primetime Anytime capability launched last March. It does not work with live or cable programming.

Dish’s Hopper DVR automatically stores broadcast content for eight days after it has aired, creating an on-demand library of about 100 hours of primetime TV shows. Using the device, subscribers can watch the recorded shows commercial free starting at 1 a.m. Prior to that, The Hopper’s 30-second “hop forward” feature continues to work for same-day viewing.

“Viewers love to skip commercials,” said Vivek Khemka, vice president of Dish Product Management. “With the Auto Hop capability of the Hopper, watching your favorite shows commercial-free is easier than ever before. It’s a revolutionary development that no other company offers and it’s something that sets Hopper above the competition.“

News of the Auto Hop feature brought immediate criticism from NBC Broadcasting chairman Ted Harbert. “I think this is an attack on our ecosystem,” Harbert said on NBC’s conference call announcing the network’s 2012-13 prime-time schedule. “I’m not for it.”

Harbert, whose comments were reported by the Los Angeles Times, 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.

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

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 told the Times the reason it is limited to broadcast shows is because those are the shows most frequently recorded by consumers.

Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. analyst Craig Moffett noted in a report that “Auto Hop adds to an already long list of broadcast unfriendly features of Dish’s service, including 30-second skip buttons on their remote controls.”