As networks are trying to fit more commercials into their airtimes, it appears that some satellite broadcasters are coming up with new ways for viewers to skip them altogether. A new feature called AutoHop, included in Dish digital recorders, allows viewers to skip commercials on recorded shows from the big four broadcast networks – ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX. This innovation turns the screen dark when the commercials arrive, and returns to the show a few seconds later.
As a result, several broadcasting networks have planned to take Dish network to court, saying that the ad-skipping feature violates copyright laws and threatens the financial system of the television industry. Companies could decide to stop airing their commercials on networks, because they’re afraid that viewers will just skip their ads using AutoHop. Since commercial broadcasters make their revenue by airing television advertisements, networks stand to lose substantial profits without companies to fund their shows.
Original television began with commercial sponsorship and later transformed to paid commercial time. In fact, the earliest soap operas, as name suggests, started out by having laundry detergent companies act as sponsors and producers of the shows, which were designed to reach daytime viewers and the homemaker target market. Now that technology is making it easier for viewers to skip ads, how much can networks rely on advertising as a source of income in the future? Networks already incorporate spin-off games and toys, product placements and Internet advertising as sources of income.
TV commercials won’t disappear anytime soon, but AutoHop is a clear example of the industry’s changes and challenges. Even I don’t love seeing lots of commercials or hearing blatant plugs for soft drinks and Ford F-150’s. But the truth is that someone has to pay for our entertainment. In the end, that’s you and me. How we’ll pay for it is the unanswered question.