We can already hear the mashing of teeth at TV networks, local stations and advertising agencies. Today, DISH satellite TV activated a new feature for its latest Hopper whole home HD DVR system which allows users to automatically skip all commercials on recorded prime-time network programs.
The new Auto Hop capability is an extension of the Hopper's "Prime Time Anytime" innovation. When activated (just once) by the DISH customer, PTA will thereafter record all the primetime TV shows on ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC in high definition. Hopper then stores these shows for eight days on its massive (2 TB) hard drive, creating an easily accessed (with on-screen menu) library of 100 hours of primetime. (And you can also record two other shows, simultaneously, on other system channels)
By contrast, Auto Hop requires affirmative action from the user at the beginning of each recorded show. A message comes on screen after you've made a selection: "You can automatically hop over this event's commercial breaks. Would you like to enable Auto Hop for this event?" Just click "yes." But if you'd rather keep up with the latest movie previews, car commercials and pouting ladies of Victoria's Secret, just say "no."
We tried out the new feature this morning on a recently installed Hopper system - actually trying it on one of the small, low power "Joey" slave units which gets located in other rooms in the house. Auto Hop worked like a charm on shows automatically recorded last night, including "Criminal Minds," "Modern Family," "American Idol" and "The B**** in Apt. 23."
During playback, you don't even see the commercials fly by. When a break comes, the screen goes dark for what seems like just a second, then the show picks up perfectly. In the process, a half hour show is shortened to 23 minutes and you shave almost 15 minutes of viewing time off an hour-long opus.
The only program recorded by the DISH Hopper system in prime time that didn't work with Auto Hop was the local Fox News hour at 10 p.m. This suggests some coding is done after the fact to the national programming. And in fact, the Auto Hop feature is not enabled until 1 a.m. eastern time on the night of broadcast.
Up to then, a same day show viewer will have to settle for the Hopper's 30-second "hop forward" feature - the same old button pushing tech for show shortening found in every other satellite and cable DVR.