'The Hopper' looks to deal a death-blow to commercials

A new device for DISH Network means even the very lazy can skip all the commercials in their favorite shows. Automatically. Good news for viewers now -- bad news later?

Today in New York, TV networks and advertisers are in the thick of "the upfronts." This is when the networks parade out their fall line-ups and advertisers move in to start the bidding.

Lingering over the proceedings this year is The Hopper. That's a new commercial-skipping device from DISH Network.

Now, people with digital video recorders (DVRs) have long been able to manually fast-forward through TV ads. But media professor Max Dawson at Northwestern University says they don't do it that much. "Whether it's a matter of laziness, people not understanding the features on the DVRs, or just liking to watch commercials, people have not necessarily done that widespread ad abandonment that the broadcasters have been fearing," Dawson says.

The Hopper, on the other hand, "takes the human factor out of things," says Dawson. "It allows you to, with the push of a button, eliminate all of the ads from recorded, network prime time programming -- provided you wait until 1 a.m. the next morning."

Dawson says viewers might celebrate now, but such liberty comes at a price. "We have to recognize that somebody has to pay the bills one way or another. Whether that's going to be subscription fees along the lines of an HBO or Netflix, or product placements, or seeing your favorite shows get cut down to shorter orders with lower budgets. The money's got to come from somewhere or else the programming is going to suffer."

So: advertisers, TV networks -- it's your move. Laurie Baird, with the Georgia Tech Institute for People and Technology, says the industry is busy on a number of fronts. "One is they're trying to integrate their product into the program. So the character is drinking the product, or driving the automobile. The other thing that's going on is things that they're calling 'second screen experience' or 'companion applications,' where you're sitting at home and you may have your iPad or PC or your cell phone with you and it's offering you bonus material tied to what you're watching."


Here's another wrinkle with something like the Hopper: What about our shared pop culture?

I have actually been living in this commercial-free world for a couple years -- skipping everything automatically using my computer.

But this comes at a personal cost: I don't always know what movies are coming out; I don't know what the local TV news has coming up; worst of all, I might miss those catch-phrases that bind us all together. Now imagine a world where we're *all* skipping commercials, and no one ever again walks up to your desk and goes, "WAZZZZZZUUUUP!"

Yeah, on second thought... unleash the Hopper.


The election-season immigration debate includes the shortage of visas for skilled workers. And here's one creative work-around: have them work just off-shore. The company Blueseed says it's a year-and-a-half from having a floating workspace for startups the size of cruise ship. It'll be anchored in international waters off of Silicon Valley. 

"There are bright, talented, creative individuals all over the world," says Max Marty, Blueseed's CEO. "It's a crying shame people want to come here and create new companies, new technologies, but are not allowed to do so because of our fairly antiquated visa system."

Entrepreneurs from everywhere would live and work on the Blueseed ship, operating under the flag -- and much more open work-visa rules -- of the Bahamas.

Seems like the reality show is only a matter of time: The Tech Boat...

About the author

Jeff Horwich is the interim host of Marketplace Morning Report and a sometime-Marketplace reporter.

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