Viacom, Time Warner Cable suspend iPad app litigation

Viacom and Time Warner Cable say they have suspended litigation around whether Viacom programming can be shown via Time Warner Cable's iPad app, while they continue to negotiate terms.

MTV and Comedy Central fans may soon be able to get that programming through the Time Warner Cable iPad after all.

Apple iPad touch screen
Apple iPad Apple

Viacom, which owns MTV and Comedy Central, and Time Warner Cable have put their legal fight over whether Viacom content can be viewed through the iPad app on hold, according to a story in The Wall Street Journal. Viacom filed a lawsuit against Time Warner Cable in April, shortly after the cable operator launched its new iPad app allowing cable TV subscribers to watch programming available via their cable package on their iPads while in their home.

The companies have reached a "standstill agreement," according to a court filing that was made public earlier this week. This agreement puts all litigation on hold as of June 17. The two companies plan to resolve the issue through negotiation.

The companies are trying to work out a deal to return channels, such as MTV and Comedy Central, to the Time Warner Cable iPad app, but it's unclear if that will happen, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Viacom sued Time Warner Cable, arguing that the cable operator doesn't have the rights to offer its programming on mobile devices, such as the iPad. And it wants Time Warner Cable to pay an additional fee for distributing its content to iPad users. But Time Warner Cable believes that as long as the viewing is restricted to within a subscriber's home, the iPad simply represents another screen.

Melinda Witmer, senior vice president and chief programming officer for Time Warner Cable, wouldn't comment directly about the lawsuit with Viacom, but she said during a panel at National Cable & Telecommunications Cable Show last week that the company doesn't distinguish between a 32-inch TV and a 50-inch TV. The iPad, therefore, should just be considered another screen.

"But we've always had rights to deliver our content in our facilities," she said in an interview at The Cable Show. "To us the iPad is just another screen in the home. What gets trickier is when you take that content out of the home. And so far the rights around Net delivery are still evolving and it's not entirely clear yet."

Witmer added that 99 percent of the programmers that Time Warner Cable deals with are in favor of getting content onto more devices. "TV Everywhere" was a major theme at last week's Cable Show. But working out the digital rights and figuring out how to count shows viewed through the app for advertising purposes have been sticking points.

Time Warner Cable has been able to work out deals with programmers that initially objected to its app. Discovery and News Corp. have each agreed to allow their content to be shown via the app.

Other cable operators are also pushing through and offering streaming TV via their own iPad apps. Cablevision has also launched an app to allow subscribers to watch live TV on the iPad. And Comcast has an iPad app that delivers video on demand content to the tablet.

The next hurdle that cable operators and content companies face is figuring out how to allow people to access TV shows and other video content on their iPads and other mobile devices outside the home. Services such as Slingbox already let people redirect the cable programming they get at home over the broadband network to laptops. But it's unclear how rights holders will strike deals to allow new devices such as tablets to access this content.

Programmers say they want to see more of their content on more devices. And many of them say they're open to allowing users to take that programming with them on the go. But working out the details is tricky.

"We want as many people to view our content as possible," said Coleman Breland, chief operating officer for Turner Network Sales, the domestic distribution, sales, and marketing arm of Turner Broadcasting System. "And we want people to be able to take that content with them wherever they go. And we are working on the rights for that now. We just want to make sure the content is protected."