Dish Network's Auto Hop is merely the latest in a long line of commercial-skipping tools, but it's attracted more than its share of controversy. NBC has called the system, which gives viewers a one-button option to remove commercials from network TV, "an insult," and at least three networks have filed suit against Dish for copyright violation. Dish chairman Charlie Ergen, however, now says Auto Hop was a "competitively necessary" response to cheap online video, a development he blames partially on networks themselves.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Ergen says that "broadcasters and advertisers have to change the way they do business or they run the risk of linear TV becoming obsolete." That's partly because it's now sometimes easier for users to simply surf online "until they find something free that they want to watch." Networks themselves are helping this, he says, putting content on their own sites or on Hulu, which is owned by Fox parent News Corp. among others. Since fewer ads often show up in the online versions, he calls complaints over Auto Hop "disingenuous."

Dish recently launched its own lawsuit, looking for a declaration that it has a right to offer Auto Hop. Network and ad executives, meanwhile, say the service is just a way for Dish to gain leverage in fee negotiations. Ergen has suggested that networks create more targeted ads in order to stop customers from skipping them, a proposal one anonymous executive compared to "putting nice drapery on top of a casket."