BREAKING: DISH adds Netflix to Hopper

This changes everything. Today, DISH becomes the first major pay-TV provider to integrate Netflix streaming into its products. According to a press release dated today, Hopper users will be able to access their Netflix content through the familiar Netflix interface, right on their DVRs. All that’s required is the latest-generation Hopper (presumably the original 2012 Hopper is left out of this.)

This does make it easier for customers to move from DISH to Netflix and back, and further blurs the line between regular TV and “over-the-top” streaming television. But why is it a gamechanger?

The standard argument against integrating Netflix into your cable or satellite box is that it takes away from the cable company’s ability to offer paid on-demand programming. Consumers don’t tend to agree, because while the market for paid on-demand content is surprisingly strong, that revenue is increasingly coming from recent releases, not catalog releases. Consumers are more than happy to switch inputs on their TVs to save $6 on watching a 20-year-old movie.

DISH is the first provider to realize that it must coexist in the market with streaming alternatives, and to welcome the top streaming company with open arms. It’s hard to know if other pay-TV providers will follow, however. On the one hand, innovations like DVRs and on demand programming that started with just one provider have become common practice in the industry. On the other hand, DISH has also attempted to lead the industry in automated ad-skipping and no other provider has followed.

In the 2000s, many pay-TV providers attempted to turn their boxes into “entertainment hubs” adding on-demand programming, photo sharing, local content streaming and music to their higher-end set-top boxes. The results were decidedly mixed, largely because the implementation was poor. DIRECTV, for example, would love it if you forgot their ill-fated attempt at photo and media sharing, with its difficult navigation and limited access to advanced file formats. They scored better with Pandora and YouTube integration but have yet to add Spotify or other more modern streaming choices.

The 2010s brought smart TVs and inexpensive streaming devices, prompting users to spend an increasing amount of time in front of the TV without any traditional live programming. Once again the early programming efforts were decidedly mixed, leading most first-and-second-generation smart TV users to abandon their smart TV functionality for newer streaming boxes.

Now, DISH fires back, offering streaming function on their Hoppers, and it will probably be a good fit for them. Unlike DIRECTV, Comcast and other competitors, they have not invested heavily in older on-demand content and therefore stand to lose less by integrating Netflix. Making it easier to switch from live to streaming, all within a DISH-provided ecosystem, could actually increase their revenues. On the other hand, if the Netflix integration proves slow or clumsy, savvy streamers will ignore it, just as they tend to ignore older smart TVs.

It’s a good step. It’s a game-changer, but we still don’t know what it means. That’s probably up to DISH’s competition to decide. In the meantime, DISH will be rolling out Netflix functionality to compatible Hoppers in the next day or so. If it comes to you, let us know what you think!