Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Is Dish Punching the Networks With Its Supersized DVR?

Yup. It’s a ginormous DVR.

Per earlier reports, Dish Networks’s big rollout at the Consumer Electronics Show today is focused on “The Hopper,” a supersized video recorder that lets users store two terabytes of data. In English, that means about 250 hours of high-def shows, or 1,000 hours of regular shows.

There are a slew of other bells and whistles, and Dish had other stuff to announce, too, like an expanded deal with Time Warner’s HBO to offer more programming to Dish customers who also pay for the premium TV service, more programing for its Blockbuster movie service, and a broadband Internet via satellite option.

Oh, and a kangaroo, which did duty as both mascot and onstage prop.

But if you were looking for an “over the top” service that lets you get pay television over the Web without getting the standard pay TV bundles, this isn’t it. It’s possible that Dish CEO Joe Clayton will offer that one day, but it’s not here now.

The chief focus here is on the DVR, which doesn’t seem like it’s the kind of thing that will attract new customers, but might keep existing ones happier. Nothing wrong with that.

The most interesting wrinkle here is the Hopper feature that will let customers automatically record the primetime lineup of the four broadcast networks — News Corp.’s Fox, Disney’s ABC, Comcast’s NBC and CBS — and store the shows for up to eight days.

Anyone with a DVR is already able to record any show they want, and keep it as long as they have space, so this isn’t an earth-shifter. But it seems clearly designed to poke a bit at other playback options, like the video-on-demand offerings that many broadcasters offer for free, or the Hulu/Hulu Plus service co-owned by Disney, Comcast and News Corp. (News Corp. also owns this Web site).

All of those options, for instance, make you wait at least a day after a program airs before they let you see it. And the networks only offer some of their shows through those options (and CBS doesn’t work with Hulu at all).

My understanding is that Dish didn’t ask the broadcasters for permission on this one, and the way it’s constructed — broadcast-only, with a time limit, etc. — make me think it believes it has created something that doesn’t require a signoff, at least legally speaking. But since all of the big pay TV providers — Dish included — are signing “retrans” deals with the broadcasters and their owners, and those deals include restrictions on how the broadcast shows can be used, it seems like Dish would want to make sure its partners are okay with this.

And they might be! As a network executive pointed out to me this afternoon, this doesn’t have to be negative for the broadcasters. If Dish, for example, can get Nielsen to give the programmers full credit for the shows stored on the Hopper, then that’s a good thing — they’d rather get paid for that eyeball, for instance, than one they sell on the Web.

But it still seems like Dish is playing this one deliberately close to the line.

[Shutterstock/Anna Jurkovska]

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work