Dish Network Hops Over the Top

In World War I, going “over the top” of your trench into often-withering machine-gun fire took tremendous courage — and ended the lives of millions of soldiers. The consequences are not as dire for the new management team at troubled Dish Network, and the company is light-heartedly hopping over the top with the help of two kangaroos as mascots and logos. Still, new CEO Joe Clayton is dramatically remaking his company’s mission — and the company’s health, if not its survival, is in the balance.

As he demonstrated at his company’s press presentation at CES, Clayton is a huckster of the old school — and a brilliant one. In keeping with the presentation’s (and Clayton’s) over-the-top style, recorded cheering and applause accompanied Clayton’s appearance with a live joey — that is, a young kangaroo. The other half of the mascot/logo team is Hopper, an adult kangaroo. Why? We’ll get to that.

One of Clayton’s favorite words was “new.” He was presenting, he said, a new Dish, with a new brand, new mascots, new management team, new CEO (him), new corporate partnerships, new logo, new products, new services and promotions, new website and new advertising.

Dish’s transformation is striking. Instead of being primarily a satellite TV provider that is steadily losing market share to competitor Direct TV, the company’s new focus will be to provide a whole-home set-top box (STB) fed by broadband. Satellite services will remain, and be enhanced, for those without broadband access.

As well as being Dish’s new logo, Hopper is the name of the company’s new “whole-home” set-top box (STB), and will be the conduit for, in Clayton’s words, “more music, more movies, more magic.” Joeys are small auxiliary STBs for TV sets in other rooms. Hopper includes a 2-terabyte hard drive that stores hundreds of hours of programs. With “Prime Time Anytime,” which includes Sirius XM Radio, you can automatically and simultaneously record all prime-time programming from the four major networks, plus two additional programs of your choice, and you can simultaneously play back four of them to different Joey satellite STBs throughout the house, and TVs can be controlled separately as long as each one has a Joey.

Dish’s purchase of Blockbuster last year was not greeted with unanimous praise, but Dish is incorporating Blockbuster@home, and its ability to stream 10,000 different movies, into its services.

If you don’t have access to broadband, there is Blockbuster unplugged, which downloads movies via satellite to your Hopper hard drive at less than real-time rates.

Communications VP Stephanie Pence quoted research that says 87 percent of TV households subscribe both to pay TV and broadband; 83 percent of Netflix subscribers still maintain pay TV subscriptions. And that’s the new Dish’s target. They will supply something approximating a cable TV experience using just your broadband connection. If you want a free sample, you can register on line for the “Dish Test Drive” and receive 24 hours of typical content.

Back to Joe Clayton: “The Dish brand will start growing again in 2012. We are re-launching our company and restoring our brand.” The ad campaign will roll out this quarter.

This is going over the top with a vengeance and cable should be worried. Even if Dish does not get the viewer experience and pricing quite right, somebody else will, and soon. Once that happens, what will the much-hated cable companies have to sell?

Ken Werner is a senior analyst and editor at Insight Media. Reach him at