Ask Forgiveness, Not Permission: Why Dish “Ad-Skipping” Tech Irks TV Execs

When Dish announced their new ad-skipping tech, response was fairly muted. Sure it was some cool technology – the experience is seamless in that you notice maybe the first second of a commercial and then a little notification pops you over the commercials entirely – but TV execs are reportedly upset by Dish’s unilateral decision.

Fox’s Peter Rice said it was “a strange thing to do” and NBC is still evaluating it. However, what is really interesting is that Dish decided to go ahead with the service at all.

The system works because Dish is currently recording all prime-time network content onto its Hopper DVRs. This content consists of all of the big shows – Grey’s Anatomy, Parks and Recreation, etc. – parceled out and ready to watch. The consumer doesn’t even have to set a reminder. The content is just there.

This is amazing news for broadcast TV. It allows a few unique things to happen. First, it ensures content discovery is forefront in the consumer’s mind. When you roll into the ABC channel, for example, you might want to watch your favorite ABC show (that I can’t think of any ABC shows off the top of my head is a testament to the problems broadcasters are facing right now, but that’s a different post) and you pop into the ABC folder. There, next to your favorite show, is another show that’s gotten great ratings or at least good word of mouth. There are a couple of episodes saved so it’s easy to just drop into the show without any problem. Imagine if, a few years ago, Lost or another huge, sprawling epic drama was available online immediately after it aired. This sort of episode saturation is a new paradigm for TV watching, one that even time-shifting advocates didn’t foresee.

Second, it ensures that every show will get a fair shot and, more important, broadcast shows will be seen in a different, more “premium” light than cable shows. As it exists today, the service only works for prime-time broadcast networks. You can always pop over to HBO GO and the like, but what about the rest of those reality shows like American Pickers, Real Housewives Of Reseda, American Gothic Skull Pickers, and Man Vs. Food Vs. Wild? If you want to view the entire season at once, you’re going to have to figure out some alternative source.

Now we come to the ad skipping. Considering Dish’s Hopper is a win-win for broadcasters and consumers alike, what’s the problem? Dish tried something new and made the unilateral decision to programmatically simulate what consumers are doing anyway. Clearly the networks see this feature as going just a bit too far. Obviously everyone with a DVR skips over commercials. It’s a given and it’s the way things work now. However, for Dish to formalize the process programmatically is a wild move. It’s akin to a movie theatre allowing folks to vote on whether the audience will see those inane pre-feature ads and previews.

I personally believe the value given by making entire seasons available immediately far surpasses any damage ad-skipping could do. By recording every single prime time TV episode, Dish creates fans. These fans will eventually watch that broadcast content live and maybe watch previous episodes in the ad skipping interface. For TV execs to even consider this technology to be bad for the media is evidence of an unnuanced and calcified worldview. But, then again, what else is new?