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Dish Soups Up Ad-Skipping Hopper to Record More Shows to Stream

Dish Network Corp. introduced a new version of its ad-skipping set-top box, seeking to lure satellite-TV subscribers by letting them record more shows simultaneously and beam programs to screens throughout the home.

Dish unveiled the revamped Hopper device today at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, equipping it with a set of add-on gadgets called Joeys. The Hopper is getting an update for the first time since it won top honors at last year’s show.

Dish is racing against traditional competitors such as DirecTV and newer rivals like Netflix Inc. to develop ways to deliver shows and movies to phones, tablets and Internet-connected TVs. The Englewood, Colorado-based carrier has raised the ire of broadcasters with AutoHop, the Hopper feature that lets users leave out ads on recorded shows.

“We know what our customers want, they want it to be affordable, mobile and easy to use,” Joe Clayton, Dish’s chief executive officer, said in an interview last month.

The new Super Joey device connects to a TV in a separate room and expands the number of channels the Hopper can record to eight from six. The Wireless Joey allows a TV not hooked up to the satellite service to stream programs from the Hopper. LG Electronics Inc.’s Smart TVs will also be able to display Hopper-recorded shows, Dish said.

To attract more customers to its pay-TV service and the new devices, Dish is planning to give away Apple Inc.’s iPad Minis as a promotion starting Jan. 17. The new Joeys will cost $7 to $12 a month.

Losing Subscribers

While the Hopper made a splash at last year’s CES, it hasn’t boosted the subscriber ranks of Dish, the second-largest U.S. satellite-TV provider. The company had 14.05 million subscribers in September, about 10,000 fewer than it had at the end of 2012. DirecTV gained 76,000 U.S. customers in that span for a total of 20.2 million. Both companies report results next month for the final quarter of 2013.

The new Hopper and Joeys will still offer AutoHop, which has been a source of irritation in relations with media companies including Walt Disney Co., which sells advertising slots on its ABC and ESPN networks.

The goal is more effective ads, not avoiding ads, said Warren Schlichting, Dish’s senior vice president of media sales and analytics, in an interview last month. Dish is working with media companies to deliver more targeted ads based on consumer information collected by set-top boxes.

Collecting Preferences

The user preferences collected by Dish also help the new Hopper make program recommendations for subscribers.

The latest Hopper has 2 terabytes of storage, enough for 2,000 hours of video viewing. It continues to use Sling, a feature that sends programs to mobile devices including tablets and phones.

Dish acquired Sling Media Inc. more than five years ago for about $380 million. The unit now operates as a division of EchoStar Corp., the set-top box manufacturing arm that separated from Dish in 2008. Billionaire Charlie Ergen, who founded Dish, is the chairman of both companies.

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