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Judge drops TV ad-block block: So how will anyone pay for TV now?

The future could be a lot grimmer than ad breaks

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Analysis The US ruling that automatically stripping out the ads doesn't cause TV broadcasters irreparable harm might be legally accurate, but logistically it's nonsense and a decision we might all live to regret.

Fox will appeal against the dismissal of its request for an injunction against Dish Networks, but it looks likely the TV network will have to resort to copyright infringement and breach of contract for restitution. Of course, both of these avenues are only available thanks to Dish's use of a cloud-based PVR and neither addresses the underlying problem of how to pay for television once viewers stop watching the adverts.

Personal Video Recorders, boxes which dump broadcast TV to a hard drive, are legal in America thanks to a ruling going back to the days of Betamax tape, but Dish's Primetime Anytime is cloud-based and only allowed thanks to a retransmission consent agreement (RTC) between the two companies. And by stripping out the ads, Dish may be in breach of that agreement.

Dish Networks provides the ad-stripping feature, called "AutoHop", to programmes watched a day after broadcast, but claims to be simply automating a process which users now perform manually and which can't, therefore, be illegal.

Fox, on the other hand, broadcasts channels in the expectation that viewers will sit through the ads that pay for the programmes - even if some of them don't.

Automatically skipping ads on a PVR would be legal, in America at least, but it's technically challenging as machines have a hard time distinguishing between adverts and the shows. TiVo's solution is really-fast scanning which jumps backwards when one presses play - which works well but is heavily patented. Other PVRs provide fast scanning, or jump-30-second buttons to help the viewer bypass the adverts, but automated eradication is the Shangri-La of the freetard viewer.

At one point, UK Satellite provider Sky had code in its boxes which would allow automated skipping of ads in Sky+ recordings, based on the subscription paid by the customer, who would pay more to avoid advertising - which seems an eminently sensible, if evil, solution.

The cloud nature of Dish's solution might yet provide an avenue for Fox to attack, and the company told The Washington Post that it would be appealing, but as PVRs spread and the technology improves, the traditional break for advertisements will, eventually, become impractical.

The alternative is to embed the adverts, inextricably, into the shows, so they can't be skipped. The clever way to do that is with product placement, something we're just getting used to in the UK since the Nescafe coffee machine appeared behind Holly and Philip on This Morning last year, but such placement limits local advertising and international sales, not to mention it's hard to push 20th-century products into Star Trek, or (god forbid) Lexx.

It's far easier just to scroll the ads across the bottom of the screen during the show, something already common around the world and creeping into UK television too (currently restricted to advertising other shows, but give it time...)

But before then we'll have more posturing from Fox and its ilk, with ABC, NBC and CBS also filing against Dish for the same reasons. The four television networks own the only channels currently available on Dish's PrimeTime Anytime cloud PVR - the ones that are having their ads automatically stripped.

But ultimately the advertisement break as we know it isn't going to last a whole lot longer, and we might even miss it when it's gone. ®

Bootnote

Your correspondent got one of the first TiVo boxes in the UK back in 2000, and hasn't seen an advert since, but would never consider downloading a pirated copy of a film - as that would make him a freetard too.

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