July 14, 2011

Viacom Seeks To Cancel TV Programs On iPads In Cablevision Suit

TV network Viacom is suing cable TV operator Cablevision to stop Cablevision from delivering Viacom channels to subscribers’ iPad tablets.

Viacom claims that Cablevision’s iPad app, which works only in a subscriber’s home, violates contractual, copyright, and trademark rights, because the companies’ agreement allows Cablevision to distribute Viacom’s programming via only “cable TV.”  Cablevision has countered that the app is nothing more than “cable TV,” delivered to homes over Cablevision’s equipment and then sent to iPads as a new type of TV set.

Potentially, such litigation may call into question the regulatory, as well as contractual, status of content delivered by a multichannel video programming distributor (“MVPD”) when the transmission is neither within its conventional service footprint nor sent over the “open” Internet.

Viacom is engaged in a similar lawsuit, filed in April, against Time Warner Cable, which also proposed to send cable programming to tablet computers.  That suit may be nearing settlement, as Viacom and Time Warner asked the judge for a “standstill” order while they negotiate, which the court granted on June 22.

Policymakers have expressed concern about a perceived lack of competition among cable operators and other MVPDs such as satellite and fiber-optic providers.

In the past four years, customers have filed antitrust suits against cable operators challenging the parameters of the services they offer.  One suit sought to compel a cable operator to offer channels “a la carte” instead of in bundles.  Another challenged the practice of making interactive cable services available only to those who rent set-top boxes from the cable operator, leaving out those who buy a set-top box from another source.  None of these suits have been successful to date.

In its 2010 “National Broadband Plan,” the Federal Communications Commission stated that encouraging competition in the devices that subscribers can use to view interactive pay television would also promote competition among the MVPDs themselves.  The suits by Viacom bear watching because they could help determine who will decide which devices can receive pay TV service.

Categories: Antitrust and Intellectual Property Law

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