No junk food ads for kids and no political junk ads for adults. Those are some specific results -- or benefits? – that the commercial-skipping AutoHop feature of Dish Network's new DVR unit, The Hopper, could soon bring to viewers.
In questioning Charles Ergen, chairman of Dish Network, during a recent Congressional hearing, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) worried that the new DVR machine could cause Dish's audience of some 15 million homes to miss out on all those key political messages.
The truth is that nearly half of the country already has access to DVR technology that allows them to do this manually. But AutoHop gets rid of all prime-time commercials automatically during next-day viewing of prime-time programs from the four broadcast networks.
Dingell's intentions seemed earnest enough: Easier commercial-skipping will make it harder for politicians to communicate with their constituents.
But political ad messages weren’t singled out. During the questioning, Ergen said he believed the AutoHop feature would be good for parents and kids in automatically skipping those nasty junk food commercials. And even ads for alcohol.
The real issue isn’t the elimination of certain TV messaging over other TV commercials. The underlying message from Dish is that entertainment consumers can still choose. Are marketers --- including political marketers -- looking to find ways around this? Or do some feel that Dish is looking to accelerate the process -- and will thus consider pulling back their advertising from Dish altogether?
Ergen's position is that consumers desire new entertainment technologies. Let them figure out their specific use. You want to see commercials? No problem. You don't want to see commercials? Also no problem.
Lawsuits are still in play from the broadcast TV networks against Dish's "Hopper." Meanwhile, the Consumer Electronics Association this week gave "Hopper" a "Best of Show" award during its CEA Line Shows event in New York.
Maybe by the time automated commercial-skipping technology becomes more widespread, we will all be watching programs through Internet-like online digital services -- those websites and digital areas where you can't skip or fast-forward commercials.
So while "communicating" with one's constituents seems noble enough, consumers also know what “negative” political advertising sounds like.
Would you like some Twinkies with that?