CBS Fights Web Outlets on Streaming Top Shows

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TV stations are not required by law to negotiate deals to provide their over-the-air programming to entities that stream video over the Internet, CBS told the Federal Communications Commission.

CBS announced its position Feb. 14 in response to a complaint filed by Virtual Digital Cable, which alleged that CBS’ Chicago owned-and-operated affiliate, WBBM-TV, refused to negotiate a carriage deal in violation of the legal requirement to bargain in good faith with multichannel-video-programming distributors.

Since last April, VDC, a start-up based in Northbrook, Ill., has been streaming a few-dozen programming services over the Internet, hoping to deliver video programming to audience locations where computer monitors outnumber television screens. The service costs $8.95 per month.

In January, VDC filed a complaint at the FCC to obtain access to several Time Warner-owned networks, including TNT, TBS, CNN and CNN Headline News. It also filed a complaint against CBS after failing to reach a deal with WBBM-TV.

CBS said it didn’t violate the good-faith requirement in the law because it has no legal obligation to negotiate with VDC. In order to have bargaining rights, VDC needs to offer “video programming” and make available “channels of programming” within the meaning of federal law, the network added.

CBS said the law requires video programming to be the qualitative equivalent of broadcast television. Citing FCC reports, the network added that the agency has determined that Web streaming lags behind broadcasting in quality.

CBS maintained that the FCC has said that in order to provide channels of programming, a provider must own facilities reaching the end-user.

“Because VDC can only provide programming to a computer monitor though a DSL [digital subscriber line] or cable Internet connection provider by another entity, it does not ‘make available … channels of programming,’ is not an MVPD, and the ‘good-faith negotiation’ rule is inapplicable,” the network added.

Lastly, CBS argued that VDC’s retransmission of WBBM-TV would expose the network to copyright infringement as CBS does not own the copyrights to all programming it airs.

“CBS might be willing to enter an agreement with VDC if its copyright concerns could be addressed and if VDC were able to demonstrate that its transmission system is, in fact, secure from digital piracy,” CBS said.

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