Dish chairman says Hopper ad-skipper is about tech, not leverage over broadcasters

Dish Networks Chairman Charlie Ergen denied that the satellite TV company’s Hopper DVR — which lets users wipe out commercials — is simply a tool to pressure broadcasters to lower transmission fees. “We don’t want to pay retransmission money but it’s not a leverage game. It’s really that tech has changed,” Ergen told an audience at the California media event Dive Into Media.

The Hopper DVR lets users record television and then instantly fast-forward past all the commercials. Today, Dish put out a new ad (yes, there’s some irony here) that offered an “in memorium” for TV commercials — the concept is that sitting through commercials is something people did in the past but no more.

The Hopper’s ability to skip ads is the subject of a heated legal dispute between Dish and broadcasters. So far, courts have refused to issue a preliminary injunction to shut down the service for copyright reasons. “The lawsuits going on today will ultimately decide the fate of commercials. Be careful what you wish for. If broadcsaters win, they’ll outlaw the DVR,” warned Ergen at the event. He says the service is legal under the law because it doesn’t erase the commercials, but simply lets consumers skip past them.

Some people in the Industry have suggested the fight over the Hopper is really a way for Dish to pressure broadcasters to lower retransmission fees — the money they charge Dish for the right to broadcast their over-the-air shows. While Ergen denied the Hopper is a leverage device, event host Peter Kafka pressed him on why the Hopper only fast-forwards past broadcast shows and not cable ones. Ergen claims this is due to technology limitations related to the way shows are streamed.