For the second year in a row, the satellite TV provider has an impressive product to show off. But can it execute on such lofty ideas?
LAS VEGAS--You have to hand it Dish Network -- the company knows how to impress.
CEO Joe Clayton didn't just walk onto stage -- he hustled up and danced in the style of "Blues Brothers" alongside kangaroo mascot Hopper, and then rapped about his digital video recorder. Few executives at the Consumer Electronics Show would ever attempt such an entrance.
And for the second year in a row, the satellite TV provider is at CES in a big way. Last year's Hopper whole-home HD DVR made a splash with a pretty nifty box that included commercial-skipping technology that irked those in the entertainment business. This year, Dish is stepping up the capabilities of the Hopper by allowing its customers to move programs onto the iPad and access Dish programming remotely though the Web or mobile devices.
The announcements further cement Dish's position as one of the leaders when it comes to the principle of "TV Everywhere," or the idea that your favorite shows and movies can be accessed from any device at any location. Dish's take is called "TV Anywhere," which it believes is superior to the competition.
"The TV Everywhere experience is either broken or very confusing," Vivek Khemka, head of product management, said about rival pay-TV offerings. They either require additional hardware, have limited access, or require different apps, Khemka added.
Dish, however, wants to simplify things by giving its subscribers access to DVR programs or live TV remotely to iOS and Android devices.
Dish customers do have reason to be excited. By integrating Hopper with the beloved Sling technology, consumers can access their programs on their digital video recorder from multiple devices. Its Hopper Transfer feature is a godsend for anyone who goes on flights or endures long underground subway commutes -- it allows users to move shows on their DVR to an iPad for later offline viewing. Its Dish Anywhere app for Apple and Android devices turns smartphones, tablets, or computers into a portable TV.
Despite showing off promising features, Dish has had some hiccups with deployment. After its debut and some positive early reaction, the Hopper and its accompanying Joey boxes for different rooms required multiple software updates -- it's because of those ongoing issues that CNET hasn't yet posted a review.
Dish also isn't a stranger to execution issues. The company has had a rocky history with growth, and in the third quarter, lost a net 19,000 subscribers. That was, however, better than the net 111,000 subscribers that left the service a year ago. In comparison, rival DirecTV added 67,000 subscribers, although that was only a fifth of the customers it added a year ago.
Dish was also embroiled in a dispute with AMC that kept the popular cable network off the air for its customers for roughly three months -- a real problem because AMC's "The Walking Dead" was a ratings blockbuster that Dish subscribers were unable to tune into. Dish and AMC struck a deal to get the channel back on in the beginning of November.
Clayton framed the dispute as necessary to protect consumers' interest at a time when programming costs have risen.
Dish's AutoHop feature, which allows consumers to skip over commercials, also faced legal threat by several of the networks, including CBS, which is the parent company of CNET. But in this case, Dish scored a victory when a federal judge denied Fox's attempt to get an injunction to ban the feature, claiming copyright infringement and breach of contract.
Features like AutoHop and Hopper with Sling are the practical and useful advantages that Dish needs if it's going to compete against DirecTV, telecom companies, and cable providers.
For two years, Dish has gotten the attention of CES and show attendees. The company is hoping that excitement may eventually trickle down to consumers looking for a solid video experience. CEO Clayton has demonstrated that he and the company are game for anything.