Dish sued the big four television networks over its new ad-skipping Auto Hop feature Thursday, even as Fox filed the first network lawsuit to stop Dish from offering the technology.
Dish sought a federal court's "declaratory judgment on questions" related to Auto Hop, which allows viewers to skip commercials when they watch previously aired shows. Fox, meanwhile, accused Dish of copyright violations.
The lawsuits could be the first of many. Dish said in its filing that it was suing because "the Major Television Networks have threatened it with litigation" intended to stifle Auto Hop, which it debuted May 10.
Fox made good on that threat.
"We were given no choice but to file suit against one of our largest distributors, Dish Network, because of their surprising move to market a product with the clear goal of violating copyrights and destroying the fundamental underpinnings of the broadcast television ecosystem," Fox said in a statement. "Their wrongheaded decision requires us to take swift action in order to aggressively defend the future of free, over-the-air television."
Dish sued Fox, NBC, ABC and CBS in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York. Fox sued Dish in the Central District of California.
Dish, the nation's third-largest pay-television provider, contends that the Auto Hop technology is like a more advanced form of fast forwarding. With the touch of a button, viewers can decide not to watch the ads on recorded shows that aired the day before. (See ad, above.)
"Consumers should be able to fairly choose for themselves what they do and do not want to watch," David Shull, Dish senior vice president of programming, said in a statement. "Viewers have been skipping commercials since the advent of the remote control; we are giving them a feature they want and that gives them more control."
But networks made their distate for Auto Hop very clear at last week's upfront presentations to advertisers, when they suggested it was a threat to ad-supported television. In an interview with TheWrap, CBS CEO Leslie Moonves called Auto Hop "illegal" and said CBS's lawyers were looking into it. He stopped short of saying the network would sue.
In its lawsuit, Fox says Dish's "PrimeTime Anytime" service -- which includes the Auto Hop feature -- is a "bootleg broadcast video-on-demand service" that "makes an unauthorized copy of the entire primetime broadcast for all four major networks every night." (It does indeed record all the network shows, though Dish would take issue with the "unauthorized copy" language.)
"To make matters worse," the lawsuit says, Dish allows customers to view the shows commercial free. The service makes the shows available for eight days.
Fox says in the suit that it cannot afford to produce hit shows like "Glee," and "The Simpsons" without ad revenue. That echoes a complaint by Moonves, who said last week, "How am I going to produce 'CSI' for $4 million without ads? I can't do that. I can't give the audience that kind of quality."
Prior to Thursday's dueling lawsuits, three networks -- CBS, Fox and NBC -- rejected ads for the Hopper Whole-Home DVR, the device that features the PrimeTime Anywhwere service and AutoHop function.
What's next? Stay tuned.