Satellite TV operator DISH Network got a lot of attention when it announced its new Hopper DVR with a feature that “can automatically skip commercials in primetime TV – ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC in HD. Only on the Hopper. Only from DISH.”
A cool feature, but hardly new. When ReplayTV introduced the first DVR in 1999, it included a 30-second skip-forward button, a revolutionary idea at the time. (Replay was the brainchild of Anthony Wood, who went on to found Roku.) Three years later, Replay, by then owned by SonicBLUE, introduced the Replay 4000. The new DVR included the ability to skip commercials automatically as well as a feature that allowed sharing of recorded programs with other Replay owners over the internet.
As I wrote at the time, this was viewed with great alarm by Hollywood, and the studios predictably rose up and crushed SonicBLUE, which had a fatal penchant for provoking legal challenges. But Replay, which launched a bit before the more successful TiVo, played an important part in revolutionizing how we watch television.