Services & Software

Dish declares the death of commercials -- in a commercial

The satellite TV provider rolls out its ad-skipping Hopper DVR nationally with a campaign that includes a grim message for TV commercials.

Dish's ad for the Hopper.
Screenshot by Donna Tam/CNET

Dish is taking its digital video recorder, the Hopper, national today, and it's doing it with an ad that declares the death of TV advertisements.

The campaign is just the latest salvo in a fight between Dish and the major broadcast networks, including CBS, the parent company of CNET. Dish and the broadcasters are tussling over the legality of the Hopper's automated ad-skipping technology, which the networks believe threaten a business model heavily dependent upon commercials for revenue.

Dish said it now offers the Hopper's service nationwide and to promote its news, the company has launched, ironically, a series of TV ad campaigns featuring its "Boston guys" characters. In one commercial, the guys are seated on a couch and holding a memorial service for television advertisements.

BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield said the commercial is dead on when it comes to the rise of video-on-demand services.

"While we firmly believe nobody is actively engaged watching commercials when they watch DVR'd programming, networks, ad agencies, and advertisers continue to maintain that they do," he wrote in a post (subscription required) about the new Hopper commercial.

Dish's campaign is a dig at the networks trying to shut down the Hopper.

Dish has argued that the Hopper is protected under the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Sony v. Universal City Studios, which determined that recording TV programming for personal use is legal and the devices that make the recordings are not liable for copyright infringement.

Fox in court initially tried to stop the sale of the Hopper, but a judge allowed Dish to continue selling it. Fox has appealed the decision. It filed a brief on January 31 that accused Dish of breaching its contract by creating an ad-free copy of Fox's content:

Dish did not "create commercial-free TV." Fox has been offering VOD and commercial-free TV to consumers for years. Instead, Dish created a competing, premium, VOD service that Dish's top executive boasted would make licensed services like Hulu obsolete, and that threatens the ad-supported broadcast television ecosystem. Contrived legal argument to avoid abiding by conditions in a license agreement is not innovation.

Separately CBS, NBC, and ABC also filed suit. CBS amended its suit in January, saying Dish concealed the ad-skipping technology during negotiations.

Fox and CBS both declined to comment. CNET has reached out to NBC and ABC, and we will update the story when we hear back. NBC Universal has previously argued: "Dish simply does not have the authority to tamper with the ads from broadcast replays on a wholesale basis for its own economic and commercial advantage."