Yesterday, Dish Network unveiled a new feature on its Hopper DVRs called Auto Hop, which allows customers to completely skip over ad breaks on certain prime-time network programs. The company’s CEO has already touted this as “the Holy Grail of television viewers,” but we’re wondering if that might be overstating the case a little bit.
As annoying as ads are — and they are often incredibly annoying — it’s not really that complicated to fast-forward through commercial breaks on your standard DVR.
And while we are certainly not going to complain about something that easily allows viewers to vault over an entire ad break, the technology is not truly what the company is making it out to be.
First, Auto Hop only works on ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox, and only works when you watch recorded programming after several hours have past. For example, the feature isn’t available on an 8 p.m. show until after 1 a.m. that night. Dish says the delay is related to the time it takes to identify and process the ads for skipping.
You’ll notice this service isn’t available on cable channels. That’s because Dish gets a much bigger chunk of ad money from those channels, and it’s not about to let you deprive it of cash.
We wouldn’t be surprised if the networks bring up that fact during what appears to be an inevitable legal and/or regulatory challenge to Auto Hop. After all, why should Dish give customers an easy way to skip commercials for only some channels?
If Dish is successful in keeping Auto Hop alive — and more importantly, if the feature allows it to retain or even grow its subscriber base — then we fear what could happen after bigger cable and satellite players follow suit.
Advertising is too big of a business and TV viewers are too valuable an audience for businesses to allow consumers to completely skip prime-time network ads. Advertisers are like weeds — if you push them out of one portion of the yard, they’ll find another place to pop up later.
Take away network ad breaks, even for the few million Dish customers, and don’t be surprised to start seeing more in-show sponsorship and product placement. We don’t imagine that any of the networks would turn down millions to have a Ford, Coke, or Viagra ad floating in the margin for the entirety of some high-rated show.
No, the true Holy Grail of TV would be something like a la carte pricing, or maybe if HBO would just go ahead and give us a stand-alone version of HBO Go.