Time Warner, Viacom take iPad issue to court

Companies swap lawsuits about whether Time Warner has right to make Viacom programs available to subscribers on tablet. Tussle reflects growing importance of Net as distribution channel for movies, TV.

Edward Moyer Senior Editor
Edward Moyer is a senior editor at CNET and a many-year veteran of the writing and editing world. He enjoys taking sentences apart and putting them back together. He also likes making them from scratch. ¶ For nearly a quarter of a century, he's edited and written stories about various aspects of the technology world, from the US National Security Agency's controversial spying techniques to historic NASA space missions to 3D-printed works of fine art. Before that, he wrote about movies, musicians, artists and subcultures.
  • Ed was a member of the CNET crew that won a National Magazine Award from the American Society of Magazine Editors for general excellence online. He's also edited pieces that've nabbed prizes from the Society of Professional Journalists and others.
Edward Moyer
2 min read
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Cable television provider Time Warner Cable and content company Viacom swapped lawsuits today about whether Time Warner has the right to make Viacom's programming available to subscribers on Apple's iPad.

The tussle reflects the growing importance of the Internet as a distribution channel for movies and TV, as streaming companies like Netflix rake in subscribers and subscription fees--and hand out sizable licensing payments to content providers. (It also reflects the iPad's runaway success.)

Complexities aside, Time Warner and its ilk are looking to prevent services such as Netflix (not to mention iTunes and other outlets) from making their own offerings look at best outdated and at worst obsolete, while Viacom and its brethren want to protect the additional revenue stream.

In a press release today, Time Warner said it had filed a "request for declaratory judgment relating to Viacom cable networks. The request asks the court to rule that Time Warner Cable's rights under its carriage agreement allow it to deliver the programming of this company over its cable systems for viewing on devices of its video customers' choosing, including iPads, in their homes."

Time Warner released an iPad app last month designed to let its subscribers watch specific programs on their tablets in any room of their house. But reportedly, a flurry of cease-and-desist letters from content providers was behind Time Warner's decision to cut back on the already limited number of channels offered. The company has since tried to fill that gap by adding different channels.

In its own suit, filed just after Time Warner's, Viacom seeks an injunction that would stop Time Warner from making Viacom programming available on the iPad or other such devices. It's also seeking damages and asking the court to declare that the Time Warner app violates the companies' agreement. (PDF posted by Engadget)

Other cable companies offer programming via the iPad. On Saturday, Cablevision released an app that it says sidesteps the Internet issue and thus stays within the bounds of licensing agreements. Comcast, meanwhile, offers an app that it says was launched with full support from its content providers. And satellite provider Dish Network offers an app that takes yet another path, requiring use of the Sling Adapter to work.

Related links
Time Warner launches TV-viewing app for iPad
Time Warner Cable scales back iPad app channels
Cablevision unveils iPad app
Netflix acquires rights to stream 'Mad Men'

Netflix, as mentioned, has been experiencing staggering growth and reportedly forked over as much as $900,000 per episode recently for the right to stream reruns of "Mad Men." It also recently inked a deal to stream two of Fox's top TV shows, "Glee" and "Sons of Anarchy."

And a recent study showed that a growing number of people are ready to drop cable for other options, including online streaming services.

Apple's iPad 2, meanwhile, may have sold as many as a million units during its first weekend of availability.