CES: Dish Network Ups Ante With New Hopper Features

Hopper with Sling and Joey Beauty - H 2013

Hopper with Sling and Joey Beauty - H 2013

Already a magnet for controversy - and lawsuits - the satellite broadcaster's new set-top box brings features which may attract even more: Slingbox technology and mobile-friendly program shifting.

The smartphone revolution of the past five years is driving an entire new set of content consumption models. It's only natural that companies would build devices and services to cater to them. It's also only natural that Dish Network would be one of them. Dish has consistently innovated on technology, offering customers cutting edge features before they realized they needed them. 

They were the first content delivery network to integrate a DVR into a set top box (triggering a 2004 patent infringement suit from Tivo). Last May they ruffled more than a few feathers in the television world with their Hopper DVR, so named because it allowed users to automatically "hop" over commercials (it also let users record the entire network primetime lineup at a whack). They were sued almost immediately by CBS, NBC and Fox. Naturally Dish countersued, alleging the networks were attempting to "stifle" its products.

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And Dish's "ask for forgiveness, not permission" approach is alive and well. At this year's CES, Dish is introducing a revamped Hopper, adding two key functions. The first, a chip that builds in Slingbox connectivity, allows users to access the content from their home television on any device with an Internet connection. The second could provoke more raised eyebrows. Hopper Tranfers allows users to transcode video content from their DVR into an appropriate mobile-friendly format, then move it onto a phone or tablet. 

When asked whether the sideloading app might prove controversial with content owners, Jimshade Chaudhari, director of digital product management for Dish Network, played innocent.

"There hasn't been any reaction because It hasn't launched yet," he pointed out. Chaudhari said Dish Network isn't rattling cages for the sake of it. "The customer is our first priority," Chaudhari said, "and customers want their content to be available on their mobile device. We're just giving the people what they want.

"Mobile is a big part of people's lives now. Being able to access DVR content on the go is something they want. That's why we built Sling technology into the Hopper in the first place. With Transfers we're just letting them do it when they have no connection."

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Chaudhari is sympathetic to content rights-holders, though, and says Dish Network is prepared for their reaction. "They have an asset, it's only natural that they would want to protect it." 

Slimg Media marketing manager Brian Jaquet points out the Sling and Dish "have always been very respectful and careful about the rights of content owners." 

They've also been adamant about the rights of the content purchasers.