Time Warner Cable v. Viacom: Who's Right?

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It’s always risky for a reporter to express an opinion about a contentious issue he or she is supposed to be covering objectively. You know: We’re supposed to be impartial observers.

In the legal fracas that has erupted between Time Warner Cable and Viacom over whether the operator’s existing carriage deals give it the right to stream live TV to iPad apps, clearly pay-TV providers are rooting for TWC while on other side of the aisle programmers are on Viacom’s side (see Time Warner Cable Seeks Court Ruling To Approve iPad App For Viacom Nets).

I will say that Time Warner Cable makes a strong argument in its lawsuit that it does have the rights to offer TV channels on its iPad app without having to pay anything extra or make additional concessions to Viacom.

“The devices subscribers use to view programming in their homes have evolved over time from analog vacuum tube devices to flat screens — both plasma and LCDs — and now Smart TVs and tablets, such as iPads,” TWC said in its request for declaratory judgment in the issue. The operator says it intentionally secured distribution rights that don’t specify display device types.

On the other hand, here’s the crux of Viacom’s argument: The iPad app, as currently executed by TWC, doesn’t respect Viacom’s rights to control its own programming.

Indeed, according to Viacom’s version of events, Time Warner Cable assumed it had rights, was informed repeatedly by Viacom that Viacom didn’t agree, but then the operator went ahead and launched the iPad app anyway.

“Among other things, TWC’s actions will interfere with Viacom’s opportunities to license content to third-party broadband providers and to successfully distribute programming to its own broadband delivery sites,” Viacom said in its lawsuit.

So I’m gonna cop out: I don’t know who’s right. (Hey, I’m not a lawyer!)

Part of me agrees with the notion that cable customers should have the right to watch TV they’ve already paid for on whatever screen they want. But it also seems to me that flinging video to a new kind of device is different from “traditional TV” — and that the value of that should be accounted for in some way.

Obviously Time Warner Cable, which has mounted a retrans-style campaign with full-page newspaper ads and its IWantMyTWCableTVApp.com website, believes public opinion is on its side.

What do you think? Add your thoughts below.

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