Disney, CBS and News Corp., the powerful companies behind three of the four major television broadcast networks, have filed lawsuits against the satellite TV provider Dish Network over the new “Auto Hop” feature, which allows viewers to skip over commercials more easily than ever before. Auto Hop allows viewers to watch shows in commercial-free mode with the touch of a button, eliminating even the fast forwarding associated with most DVR usage to skip commercials; ABC, CBS and Fox, with NBC waiting in the wings, see all of this as a threat to the future of free, over the air television.
If the networks win these lawsuits, it could prevent further technology like this from being offered, but if Dish Network wins, it is likely that other cable television and satellite television providers, such as Charter Communications, Verizon, AT&T and DIRECTV, will begin to offer similar products.
The fact that the networks are suing over this developing technology seems to miss the point: that the way people watch television is changing, and the ad-driven strategy of the major networks may end up going by the wayside. More than 90% of homes get their television through cable TV or satellite TV providers, meaning that “free, over the air television” is not experienced by many homes, and when customers pay for cable or satellite services, the fees they pay support the cable networks that air in those packages. If the networks lose this fight, they will have to consider operating under a similar model; it’s worked very well for ESPN, which demands the most in cable rights fees from providers, a cost passed on to the consumers.
Even further: many thought the VCR would be the death of ad-driven television, as people could tape shows and fast forward through commercials, but that was not at all the case. Besides, many events that bring in the biggest ad revenue are watched live: the Super Bowl and other sporting events, the finales of big reality shows. While networks should start looking to the future, in the present they don’t have much to worry about.