Just because AutoHop is stuck in the courts doesn’t mean it can’t court consumers. Dishbillboard

While Dish Network’s controversial new ad vaporizer–mere “skipping” is for bush-league DVRs–isn’t mentioned by name in a new ad from the satcaster, its spirit sure seems to be lurking on the billboard pictured at right.

The tagline “Watch shows, not commercials” reads like a not-so-veiled reference to AutoHop’s core functionality, which prompted broadcasters to sue Dish for copyright infringement and breach of contract last month. AutoHop allows Dish subs who use its whole-home DVR, dubbed the Hopper, to cut out the commercials in primetime programming recorded the day before with one click of the remote control.

It’s ballsy enough to tout a product that Dish may ultimately have to scrap if it doesn’t pass legal muster. But distilling AutoHop into a catchphrase for a corporate brand campaign? That may be a whole new level of cojones–which is really saying something for bold execs like Dish CEO Joe Clayton and chairman Charlie Ergen.

Asked about the ad, Dish advertising veep Stephanie Spence noted the “Watch shows, not commercials” billboard is just one execution of a broader campaign encompassing many different marketing messages speaking to everything from the Hopper’s multi-room capability to its storage capacity. But Spence acknowledged that the tagline has been used in ads specifically pertaining to AutoHop, though she noted the message could just as easily apply to the Hopper as well.

“Lots of companies define their brand by what their premiere product is,” said Spence. “I would say we’re glad to associate the benefits of the Hopper with the Dish brand.”

As marketing goes, leveraging AutoHop to enhance Dish itself has some logic to it; what better way to attract subs than put the hard sell on a rather seductive technology that differentiates the satcaster in the marketplace. But in the highly possible event that the courts rule in the broadcasters’ favor, what then? How wise is it to pitch consumers on a product feature that may not be in existence for much longer after they’ve signed on for a subscription?

As for the broadcasters, they can’t be too amused by this. Then again, they’re the ones with the momentum in the ongoing legal battle. Last we saw AutoHop, a federal judge rejected a Dish request to have legal proceedings in New York instead of Los Angeles.