Broadcast wins a battle over ad skipping
Dish suspending AutoHop on CBS stations and networks
December 8, 2014
Over the past few years, new ways to watch broadcast television have emerged.
The networks do not like them, and they’ve gone to court to stop them.
And so far they’re winning the fight.
Months after the Big Four successfully shut down Aereo, an online service that allowed people to watch local stations’ programming without turning on their televisions, CBS has won a huge concession from satellite broadcaster Dish Network in a dispute over AutoHop, a service that allows subscribers to skip commercials.
As part of a new carriage deal, reached Saturday morning, Dish has agreed to suspend use of AutoHop on CBS-owned stations and networks during the first week after a program airs.
That means AutoHop will not zap out ads during the live-plus-seven-day-DVR-playback period that CBS uses as currency for ad buys.
And it will bring to a close lawsuits stemming from the introduction of AutoHop two years ago. CBS, along with the other Big Four networks, sued Dish in 2012, alleging that AutoHop violated copyrights.
Dish sued back, demanding a declaratory judgment on whether ad skipping violated copyright laws.
While they were awaiting their day in court, a major decision came down that changed everything.
The Supreme Court ruled Aereo illegal in June, overturning lower court decisions in favor of the streaming service and making it clear broadcast has a legitimate claim against those who manipulate the flow of its content.
Dish evidently anticipated that the courts might view AutoHop in a similar light.
In March, Dish reached an agreement with Disney owner ABC in a carriage dispute over ESPN. Dish agreed to disable AutoHop during the first three days after a program airs, and the companies dropped their lawsuits.
The window for suspension of AutoHop on CBS is even longer, and represents a huge win for the broadcast networks.
It essentially upholds the broadcast argument that third parties should not be allowed to retransmit their content, which was the basis for the Aereo decision.
The networks fear these new media challenges, and for good reason.
They threw such a snit over AutoHop and Aereo that several threatened to move from a free TV to a pay TV model, claiming they would rather become cable networks than allow violation of their copyrights.
At the heart of the controversies, of course, is money.
When people zap ads or watch through a third party online, TV networks do not get credited with that viewing for ratings. And they sell advertising based on ratings.
So, they argue, if people watch TV in this new manner, the networks will still have the same viewership but not the ratings, which will lead to lower ad sales and, they claim rather dramatically, kill off broadcast TV as we know it.
It would take years, or more likely decades, for that to happen. But broadcast, hit by hastening ratings declines credited to the rise of online video viewing, is still spooked by the idea, along with the very real issue of lost revenue long before that day should come..
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