Throughout the opening of the 2012 International CES I’ve had a feeling that the technology news here will delight TV viewers — but frighten Hollywood studios and other content owners. My impression was clinched this morning at a small presentation by EchoStar, Dish Network’s technology-focused corporate cousin. The company’s new gadgets make it possible for pay TV providers to offer customers television’s most popular shows on-demand — including via TV Everywhere-like Internet streams to out-of-home smartphones and tablets — without having to pay programmers additional license fees. Some of those capabilities were displayed on Monday when Dish unveiled its Hopper DVR: Dish subscribers with one of these boxes can watch any ABC, CBS, Fox, or NBC primetime show from the previous eight days. The boxes also use technology from Sling Media (which EchoStar owns) to stream any of the channels that users receive or and shows that they record at home.
But this morning’s presentation made it clear that EchoStar is starting to build bridges with cable operators — the dominant providers of TV services and, ostensibly, Dish’s mortal enemies. EchoStar CEO Mike Dugan says that cable execs became more willing to talk with him last year after Google agreed to buy Motorola Mobility, the largest manufacturer of cable set-top boxes. EchoStar already has a customer which Dugan wouldn’t name but I hear is Cable ONE, a small operator owned by the Washington Post. That goes beyond Time Warner Cable’s eyebrow-raising agreement last year to provide Sling boxes to customers who buy its $99 a month wideband service, which transmits Web data about 10 times faster than its conventional broadband service. The way Dugan sees it, EchoStar is just giving consumers the ability to juggle content for which they already pay. But he also acknowledges that “a lot of programmers are demanding additional costs” for pay TV providers who want to license the right to rebroadcast shows. There was no mistake that EchoStar has thrown down a gauntlet to program creators. Stay tuned to see whether they fight back.