In television, you get what you pay for, sooner or later.
And in the case of Dish’s Autohop technology — which allows DVR users to skip commercials while playing back programs from the four major networks — the price might be higher than advertised.
Because those commercials we all love to hate? They pay for the “free” programming we don’t want interrupted.
Yes, yes, I know. “There’s nothing good on network TV, anyway.” “I only watch cable.” “My dog ate my remote.”
Great. You won’t need the Hopper, which, interestingly enough, isn’t available for shows on ad-supported cable, which tends to have even more commercials than ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC.
Now, on to the rest of you, who, the Nielsens show, are still watching broadcast TV, even if none of the Big Four is quite as big as it used to be.
How much are you willing to fork over for “NCIS”? “The Good Wife”? “The Big Bang Theory”?
CBS, which is one of the networks that has sued Dish over the Hopper, has already indicated a possible solution to the problem of not getting paid by advertisers.
CBS chief executive Les Moonves was asked by an analyst a few months ago if there was any way he could see trading the money his company gets from advertisers for payments from companies with ad-skipping technologies.
And, reports the Los Angeles Times, he could.
“I suppose if Dish wanted to pay us $5 a (subscriber), we might consider letting them do that,” Moonves replied.
Times reporter Joe Flint wrote that Moonves was “being flip,” but added that “his remark points to what this battle is really about — and it’s not just skipping commercials.”
Instead, Flint wrote, it’s about leverage in future talks about the price Dish pays for the right to retransmit broadcast signals.
Broadcasters, who get paid only for viewers who watch their shows within three days of airing — and with the commercials played at normal speed — would love to see those retransmission fees raised.
If broadcasters decide to walk away from services with commercial-skipping technology, viewers may find themselves rigging up digital antennas to catch their local news. (Assuming the signal’s strong enough.)
If they stay, subscribers who’ve seen their bills rise steadily with the growth in cable networks will almost certainly pay more.
What’s interesting to me about the Hopper controversy is that it’s the first technology to come along that broadcasters haven’t found a way to spin in their favor.
They may not have embraced recording technology from the beginning, but, for years now, they’ve been touting research — to reporters, and more importantly, to advertisers — that shows that a hefty percentage of us actually watch the commercials during playback.
(I believe them only because I do this about half the time myself, sometimes out of sheer laziness, sometimes because I’m watching during a workout, and I use the ad breaks as cues in my admittedly haphazard interval training.)
I’ve even seen research showing that viewers using fast-forward actually absorb a fair amount of information from the commercials whizzing by.
And even the Hopper won’t weed out product placement that has TV characters suddenly going ga-ga over a new car or a fast-food product, much less guarantee that broadcast TV won’t become even more dependent on cheap “reality” programming to make ends meet.
Watch now or pay later. It’s your choice.
Ellen Gray: firstname.lastname@example.org
©2013 Philadelphia Daily News
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