Dish’s “Auto-Hop” ad skipping device in legal showdown with TV networks

Here we go again. Another disruptive TV technology, another major lawsuit. This time Dish Network (s DISH) and the major TV networks are suing each other over what Dish calls its “best in class DVR” technology that lets viewers skip over tv commercials with a single click.

“Ultimately, this case is about consumer choice,” said Dish in a complaint filed Thursday in Manhattan federal court. The satellite TV provider wants the court to declare that it is not infringing copyright or breaching the terms of its contracts with Fox, (s NWS) NBC, (s CMCSA) ABC (s DIS) and CBS. (s CBS) Meanwhile, the Hollywood Reporter reports that Fox has filed a separate suit against Dish to “aggressively defend the future of free, over-the-air television.”

Dish’s ad-skipping device stands out because, unlike other DVRs, viewers can skip an entire set of commercials rather than fast-forwarding or skipping in 30 second jumps.

The so-called “ad eraser” may delight consumers, but the TV networks reacted angrily during a conclave with advertisers in New York last week.

“How does Charlie Ergen expect me to produce ‘CSI’ without commercials?” said chief executive of CBS Corporation, Leslie Moonves, according to the New York Times. (Also, see my colleague Daniel Frankel’s excellent report on the strategy behind Dish’s “Molotov cocktail” at the broadcasters.)

In its complaint, Dish portrays its technology as a natural extension of existing time-shifting practices and points out that Americans have for decades chosen to disregard ads in one way or another.

Dish also claims that its technology does not alter the broadcasters’ signals and that viewers can only skip the ads the day after a show is aired live.

The TV networks are facing significant disruptions despite receiving new fees that oblige cable and satellite providers to pay them for carrying their over-the-air signals. In addition to its legal tussle with Dish over ad skipping, the TV networks are also suing Aereo, a start-up service that uses tiny antennas to broadcast shows directly to viewers’ iPads and iPhones.

Here’s a copy of Dish’s complaint:

Dish v TV Networks