Dish's Hopper Slings More Controversy

The hoopla over Dish’s new Hopper with Sling whole-home DVR revealed at this year’s CES has once again shed a light on the tension between the TV industry’s business models, which funds the content Americans love to watch, and new consumer technologies, which can threaten the ad dollars and subscription revenue that make those shows possible.

CBS-owned CNET withdrawing its Best of CES award for ad-skipping DVR Hopper Thursday, due to its litigation with broadcasters over the feature, underscores this problem.

And during this week’s CES, Dish showed no sign of backing down from that battle when it launched a new version of the Hopper. Not only does the new Hopper with Sling keep the ad-skipping feature, Dish may have thrown some additional salt on the industry’s wounds with technologies that could impact retransmission consent negotiations and other important issues.

For starters, the new Hopper with Sling will come with a DTV receiver that will receive over-the-air signals.

It will take quite a while for a significant number of those devices to come into the market, but in the long-run — think several years from now — this could have a very big impact on retransmission consent negotiations. If a station group decides to pull its stations from Dish’s lineup, subscribers who have a Hopper with Sling could still pick up the over-the-air signals.

Another feature worth watching is the Hopper Transfer. This allows subscribers to take their DVR recordings and move them to an iPad so they could access it outside the home when they don’t have a Wi-Fi connection.

How programmers might react remains to be seen. Consumers do have the right to record content for personal use and it is a highly desirable feature. But programmers might not agree that copies can be placed on an iPad, with other devices to follow. In the past, several of them have refused to grant rights to programming delivered to PCs and mobile devices unless operators agree to pay additional fees.

All of this will likely stir up more controversy in the future, fulfilling Dish president and CEO Joseph Clayton’s promise during the Jan. 7 press conference to continue to “ruffle feathers in the industry.”

But the exclusive focus on ad-skipping or retransmission consent is too narrow.

The TV industry is in the midst of a very important transition to a world where much more content will be delivered to many more devices via the Internet or IP infrastructures.  If the TV industry fails to respond quickly enough to these consumer trends, it could open the door to some very big tech companies like Google and Apple who have long dreamed of disrupting the TV business and grabbing a big piece of the $130 billion TV ad and subscription business.

The industry’s response to this threat has been TV Everywhere. By making vast amounts of content available on any device, anywhere, at any time part of a multichannel video offering, consumers get what they want and the traditional ad and subscription models are preserved. For the moment, though, TV everywhere offerings remain relatively limited. Operators and programmers are moving at different speeds, which results in a patchwork of content that can frustrate consumers.

Here, Dish deserves some kudos.

Dish’s Hopper with Sling isn’t the final solution to the TV Everywhere puzzle, but it is an important step in bringing more content to more devices. It allows subscribers to access all of the operator’s live TV programming, all of their DVR recordings and all of Dish’s on demand content on any internet connected device both inside and outside the home.

Finding a way to overcome the tension between some of these features, which are very good for both consumers and the industry, and others technologies that threaten the TV ecosystem won’t be easy, but achieving that goal is the big question facing our business today.