The Strange History of Dish Network’s Pirate Channel

Dish Network LogoIn the mid-to-late 2000s, Dish Network had a tremendous problem on its hands.

It’s satellite encryption had been effectively cracked. It was possible for users to purchase their own satellite equipment, typically intended for accessing unscrambled and free to access programming offered legitimately via satellite, and then, with a few simple modifications and some downloads from the web, easily access all of Dish Network’s programming for free.

Though it’s unknown how many households went this route, in 2006 the Carmel Group had estimated it to be around 2 million, representing hundreds of millions of dollars of lost revenue to Dish.

Dish then began a multi-pronged counter attack against the piracy. First was a technological war where the company spent millions studying the problem, creating new encryption cards and then sending them to their legitimate subscribers so they could cut off the old streams and the pirates along with them.

But part of the effort was also public outreach. Dish, in an effort to reach pirates, created a channel especially for them.

The idea was simple. It created a channel, sometimes referred to as Pirate TV, that was inaccessible to legitimate customers as it would remain scrambled, but anyone using pirate equipment could access as non-legitimate equipment simply descrambled all of the channels blindly.

On this channel, Dish Network played a 2-3 minute loop letting the user know that they are a satellite pirate and offering them a chance to sign up for Dish Network legitimately.

The first such spot aired up until about 2008, when the first card change was completed. However, Dish also played a second one for a time after that to battle continued cracking of its encryption.

You can view the two spots below:

The Dish Network Spots

The Pre-2008 Spot:

Click Here to View on YouTube (Embedding Disabled)

The Second Spot:

Bottom Line

It’s unclear what impact the spots had, if any. It’s likely that many who pirated Dish didn’t even see the channels.

However, it is worth noting that, at the time Dish’s main competitor, DirectTV did not have as serious of a piracy problem. It’s cards were more difficult to crack and, though it certainly could be done, since the products were comparable it was simply easier to pirate Dish rather than DirecTV.

However, the whole story is interesting in another context.

In 2015, Dish is better known for creating copyright controversy rather than enforcing its rights. The recent battles over its Hopper and Sling services, which let you automatically skip ads and view TV on any device respectively, has put it at odds with TV networks.

Though a judge recently ruled the features don’t infringe copyright, the case is still ongoing and the TV networks are clearly upset Dish’s offerings.

Still, the videos above are an interesting piece of copyright and anti-piracy history, even if they were only ever meant to be seen by a couple of million suspected satellite pirates.

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