In a move that might have major implications for all television watchers, all of the major television broadcast networks have banded together to sue Dish Network, which offers programming to customers via satellite dishes. The Associated Press, via ABC News, is reporting that ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox have filed court papers in an attempt to force Dish Network to stop offering a new service it calls “AutoHop.” The new service feeds popular network shows to its customers with the ads that typically interrupt such shows removed. The Hollywood Reporter says that Dish Network is arguing that the service they are offering doesn’t do anything customers with a DVR haven’t been able to do for years.
The AutoHop service being offered by Dish Network, the AP says, uses a virtually identical technology to the standard DVR that is able to discern the difference between a broadcast program and a television commercial and to only record the program parts, leaving out the ads. It does so by sensing the change in tone and frequency of the sound that accompanies the video and has been refined over the years to provide viewers with an ad free experience. But only when watching previously recorded shows. The problem has come to the fore because Dish Network has decided to cut out the middle-man so to speak and to offer the DVR service themselves. Other content providers, such as Comcast, also offer DVR services, but they not only don’t cut out the ads, they also disable fast-forward features.
The Hollywood Reporter says that in the court filing, the networks insist that the move by Dish Network undermines the provider/distributor relationship and would lead to the demise of original content if removal of ads were allowed to continue. This is because at the heart of the issue is the fact that almost all programming is prerecorded. Take a popular sitcom such as The Big Bang theory, for example. It’s been pre-recorded and edited far in advance of the day it’s actually broadcast on the CBS network. If an affiliate decided to simply remove the ads as it was being aired, viewers would no doubt be delighted, but if the ads weren’t shown than networks wouldn’t be able to sell ad space, which is their only source of revenue. Without revenue, they would cease to exist and television as we know it would no longer exist either.
As things stand now, the AP says, no one really knows which side will win. If the networks do, the status quo will remain, if Dish Network wins however, we could see a paradigm shift in television programming unrivaled since the move from black and white to color broadcasts.