Dish Network’s new AutoHop feature has resulted in a major backlash from TV networks, but political media strategists say they aren’t too concerned about the technology—at least not yet.
It’s the automatic ad-skipping feature in the company’s new Hopper DVR that has broadcast networks up in arms. CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox filed suit against Dish earlier this spring, arguing that ad skipping is tantamount to copyright infringement. The new DVR allows you to record and store programing for eight days, while its AutoHop software lets viewers skip ads entirely—with a normal DVR, you have to at least fast-forward through the ads.
“They’re changing the actual content of the program, and the content of the program is owned by the copyright holder—the TV station,” argues Dennis Wharton, executive VP for communications at the National Association of Broadcasters.
Dish Network Chairman Charlie Ergen defended the technology before a House subcommittee last week in the face of at least one lawmaker who expressed concern that the ad skipping feature could hamper the ability of candidates to communicate with voters.
“We don’t know how much this is going to grow; we don’t know how many people would opt into that kind of service,” says Jack Poor with the Television Bureau of Advertising (TVB). “93 percent of viewing is live, and that’s obviously the lion’s share.”
For now, political advertisers say the size of the DVR problem is minimal given that so many political spots air during local news programming, which the vast majority of viewers still watch live. According to TVB’s data, of the 7 percent of viewers watching prerecorded TV, only half of them are fast-forwarding through commercials.
As of the end of May, Nielsen reported that 43 percent of homes have DVRs, but the company says early adopters of the technology are far more likely to use it than are later adopters, many of whom only have DVRs because they came with their cable package.
“What this really does is force me to be very selective about where I advertise,” says Democratic media strategist Joe Slade White. News and sports programing, he notes, are often the most important vehicles for political advertisers. “People don't DVR ‘The Today Show.’ They do it on primetime or on cable,” he says. “So we’ll target, especially on cable, shows that are not being recorded by DVRs.”
If viewers are indeed tuning out campaign ads, say strategists, bad advertising is the more likely culprit, not new ad skipping technology. The bottom line, according to media strategist Rob Aho is that the DVR won’t deal a fatal blow to campaign advertising. He says advertisers have always faced challenges when it comes to keeping voters’ eyes on their ads and advertisers find a way to adapt.
“There’s some assumption that television was at some time this perfect medium to reach voters,” says Aho, partner at the Republican media firm Brabender Cox. “There is no such thing as the perfect medium.”
Danielle Kane contributed reporting.