DISH faces nationwide Gannett blackout over AutoHop ad-skipping
Michelle Clancy | 07-10-2012

DISH Network is facing a blackout of Gannett Co.'s local broadcasting feeds at midnight on Sunday 7 October, if the satellite TV provider doesn't agree to disable the AutoHop commercial-skipping feature on its digital video recorders. Alternatively, DISH could agree pay additional retransmission fees to make up for what Gannet says is lost advertising exposure.

However, neither of those rectifying scenarios is likely. "Gannett's demands translate into more than a 300% rate increase, which would likely result in higher monthly fees for consumers," the company said in a statement.

DISH has agreed to pay an increase in fees to continue to carry Gannett's local stations, more than 200%, "the same as our closest direct competitor," said Dave Shull, DISH's senior vice president of programming. "But Gannett wants money on top of that for the expressed reason that our customers have access to AutoHop. We will continue to take a stand for customer choice and control."

The AutoHop feature works on recorded programming on the DVR, not on live broadcast, but networks and their affiliates are still concerned that the service is costing them consumer eyeballs for advertising. DISH faces legal action by all four national networks, and several local TV stations have done saber-rattling of their own on over the issue. DISH, for its part, says that the DVR and the ad-skipping feature is no different than a fast-forwarding past ads on a traditional DVR, or the ability to change the channel during commercial breaks.

"Consumers have had the right to skip commercials since the advent of the remote control," said Shull. "We are simply providing consumers with the choice to watch what they want, when they want."

Gannett owns local TV affiliates in 19 cities, including Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Denver, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Phoenix and Sacramento, spread out across ABC, CBS and NBC.

"If Dish refuses to reach a deal before midnight, October 7 Dish subscribers could lose their local Gannett station and access to some of the year's best programming," Gannett said in a statement.

Shull said, "On this issue, we are standing shoulder to shoulder with viewers. We invite Gannett to join us."

It is unclear how much programming DISH will have the stomach to lose: Earlier in the year DISH dropped AMC programming, including hot shows like Mad Men and the Walking Dead, calling the basic-tier network group overpriced given the ratings it engenders.