Dish’s latest Hopper tweak reeks of legal positioning

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Facing a legal showdown with the broadcast networks over commercial-skipping features in its digital video recorders, Dish Network has quietly made several operating-system tweaks designed to put the ad-circumvention process more in the hands of the user.

This could be crucial in the satellite’s legal battle with broadcasters over these features, given that subscribers now have more control of how they’re used.

With the new upgrade, Dish’s Hopper DVRs are no longer set by default to record every prime-time show on each of the Big Four networks — i.e. ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC. The user now has to select which networks they want recorded.

Dish subscribers have to switch a default setting from “no” to “yes” if they want commercials deleted from those recordings — that setting had previously been defaulted to the “on” mode.

Dish’s Ergen: AutoHop protecting TV from internet video barberism

Subscribers are also now in charge of when programs are deleted, as opposed to the Hopper setting a default date.

The tweaks, which began rolling out from Dish last week, were originally reported Thursday by Variety. Dish later confirmed them with us. The tweaks are just beginning to be discussed by Dish subscribers in various satellite and cable TV forums.

A Dish spokesman told us the upgrade was something the company does “routinely” to its products and that it was meant to “enhance the user experience.” Of course, this reeks more of legal positioning.

Dish is currently battling CBS, Fox and NBC in court, with the networks asserting that the so-called “Auto Hop” commercial-skipping feature violates Dish’s affiliate agreement to carry those networks’ channels.

Also read: Dish defends ad-skipping DVR – peers throw it under the bus

Dish has been seeking to exploit legal precedent established in 2008 by Cablevision, which won a New York appellate court ruling against broadcasters who were suing the cable company over its virtual DVR service. Key to that ruling: subscribers had ample control of the technology, not Cablevision.

Dish has already lost one key early round. It actually filed suit first to have the case heard in New York, but the Big Apple court ruled that it would be decided in California, where the broadcasters had subsequently filed to have their claims heard.

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