No ruling yet on site of AutoHop trial

Broadcasters want L.A.venue; Dish wants New York

A New York judge declined to issue a ruling Monday regarding whether a case that centers on AutoHop, Dish Network’s new ad-skipping feature, will be tried in Gotham or Los Angeles, but the judge said a ruling should come within a week’s time.

The AutoHop feature on Dish DVRs lets viewers skip commercials on the big four broadcast networks more easily than ever before, basically without fast forwarding, and has horrified the TV industry.

U.S. District Court Judge Laura Swain said she will rule not only as to where a motion should proceed but if it should proceed at all since ordering a temporary restraining order on the broadcasters’ lawsuits last month.

CBS, NBC and Fox sued Dish in Los Angeles court last month — just after Dish had filed a preemptive suit in New York asking the court to validate AutoHop.

Swain heard arguments from both Dish and attorneys representing three broadcasters. At issue in the hearing was the location of legal proceedings; Dish prefers New York, while the broadcasters think showbiz-steeped Los Angeles would give them a better shot.

Monday’s hearing centered on logistics, but everything about the case is crucial as it may redefine the rules in an evolving media landscape. DVRs, including the original TiVo, have long had the ability to do what AutoHop does but those behind the DVRs held back on harnessing those capabilities fully for fear of alienating programmers.

Networks say the AutoHop feature is a violation of copyright and would destroy “the fundamental underpinnings of the broadcast television ecosystem,” which is still based on selling commercial time to advertisers.

The entertainment industry and Wall Street are watching this conflict unfold — along with a parallel suit by the TV networks against upstart Aereo — with bated breath. Aereo retransmits broadcast shows to subscribers through tiny antennas without paying retrans fees like cable or satellite providers. Those fees are increasingly significant drivers of revenue and profit for broadcast nets.

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