Video Armageddon?

The nets have their briefs in a twist because of a feature on the DISH Network's new DVR. The feature, called “AutoHop”, permits the viewer to skip program commercials with the single press of a button.

Sure, other DVRs have offered a 30-second skip feature, but “Hopper” as it’s being called, allows the viewer to skip all of the commercials within the program. To say the nets are mad is an understatement.

Just before Memorial Day, FOX, CBS and NBCUniversal all filed briefs against the DISH Network (opens in new tab) claiming that DISH was practically trying to stealing them blind. The networks suggest Armageddon if viewers aren’t required to watch the commercials in their programming.

Dish’s senior VP of programming, David Shull, responded saying the nets charge MVPDs like DISH millions of dollars for the ability to re-transmit the networks’ signals. Shull said, “…customers deserve to use content they pay for as they wish.”

You can find the court fillings from, CBS, and NBCUniversal and FOX here. While the legal documents are clearly filled with hyperbole, what I find most noticeable are the grammatical errors. It looks like some of the networks' legal folks were in a real hurry to start their weekend and may have forgotten how to spell and grammar check the documents. There are more misspellings, bad grammar, even exaggerations, than you’d find in a high-school term paper.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the networks are ginned up about a commercial skipping DVR function. In this battle, the networks are going to find themselves being seen as greedy to an audience that increasingly wants to exercise control over how and where it uses content. I’m reminded of the 1979 Sony Betamax decision which affirmed the rights of a viewer to time shift programming, calling it “fair use”. Could something similar happen here?

Said Gigi B. Sohn, president and CEO of Public Knowledge “In filing this suit, Fox and the others are challenging long-held consumer rights and going against long-standing consumer practices. Consumers have the right to control their TV watching, using whatever technology is available to them. This is as true now as it was in 1955 when advertisements for the Flash-Matic, one of the first remote control devices, promised, ‘You can even shut off annoying commercials while the picture remains on the screen.

“In filing this suit, the broadcasters are demonstrating their contempt for the millions of consumers who watch their shows and who buy the products they advertised on their networks. They should withdraw their legal actions immediately.”

Yeh, I’ll bet that happens.