In early May, Dish Network launched a new service called Primetime Anytime, a service that would give consumers access to network television shows from the previous 8 days—minus the commercials. The technology, dubbed “AutoHop,”allows a user to watch their favorite television shows without the hassle and annoyance of advertisements. The broadcast networks quickly leapt into action, claiming that this new service violates the copyright law and the licensing agreement between them and Dish.
So does this violate the copyright and the agreement between the broadcasters and Dish? The TV networks obviously think so. The broadcasters provide the content to Dish under a licensing agreement, and under the terms of the agreement aren’t permitted to make unauthorized changes to the programming, or keep the programming on Dish’s own hardware. This new service allows consumers to change the content of the program, as well as store the programming on a hard drive provided by Dish. According to the broadcast networks, Dish is engaging in both of those practices. CBS said in a statement:
“This service takes existing network content and modifies it in a manner that is unauthorized and illegal. We believe this is a clear violation of copyright law and we intend to stop it.”
Dish filed a countersuit, asking a New York federal judge to gives its blessing and say that the new AutoHop technology does not allow for copyright infringement, but rather gives the consumer more options. Yesterday, that New York court granted Dish a temporary restraining order against the suit filed by the broadcasters, allowing Dish to roll out its service and fend off court injunctions for the time being.
As Dish says, the consumer has been able to skip commercials since the advent of the remote control. What makes this so different? It’s a service that has to be enabled by the consumer, and merely cuts out the fast forward button that so many of us with DVR services have become accustomed to. So where’s the harm? And do the TV networks have any standing to prevent this?
The broadcasters obviously have a lot at stake. If consumers can now skip through the broadcasters primary source of income, advertising, they could stand to lose a lot of money. Where would they make that up? For one, the broadcasters hold the power, so they could decide to not provide their content to the cable providers. As an alternative, they could begin to charge cable providers, like Dish, higher carriage fees, which would inevitably be passed on to the consumer.
Consumers, though, have plenty of choices when it comes to where to get their television programming. In addition to the 1 or 2 main cable providers most people have access to, consumers have a choice between satellite TV companies like Dish or DirectTV, and companies like AT&T now offering cable TV service, as well as the variety of options available by watching programming online. Only time will tell if this new service worth the cost to Dish, the lost revenue to their broadcast partners, and the potential for rising costs to the consumer?
Zack Christenson writes on digital tech issues for the American Consumer Institute