Liberty Yanks QVC from Web Streamer

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Liberty Media’s QVC shopping channel pulled its signal Thursday from a new video-streaming Web site hoping to become the Internet’s cable company if it can sign distribution deals with top national and regional cable networks.

In a brief letter, a QVC attorney notified the management of Virtual Digital Cable that it no longer had permission to distribute the channel on its Web site.

“We trust you can understand and respect our concerns in this matter, and that further use of the QVC feed will be discontinued immediately,” QVC associate counsel Cynthia Baxter said in her letter to a VDC programming executive. Baxter was unavailable to comment Friday morning.

VDC responded by immediately removing QVC from its lineup of about two-dozen channels, which costs $8.95 for a monthly subscription.

On its own Web site, QVC streams the shopping shows seen in millions of cable- and satellite-TV homes. Two weeks before QVC sent its termination notice to VDC, QVC announced that AOL Video would distribute the channel over the Internet and offer QVC in an on-demand format, too.

Liberty, QVC’s corporate parent, owns 4% of Time Warner, AOL’s corporate parent.

The VDC site, launched last April, carried QVC for several months under an informal carriage deal. QVC, one of the largest TV networks in the United States, was the only widely known and established cable network to permit VDC distribution.

Three days before pulling the plug on VDC, Liberty filed an application at the Federal Communications Commission to take de facto control of DirecTV, the nation’s largest direct-broadcast satellite provider, with nearly 16 million subscribers.

In the filing, Liberty promised that if allowed to acquire News Corp.’s 38.4% DirecTV interest, it would comply with the FCC’s cable program-access rules and would “not offer any of its existing or future national and regional programming services on an exclusive basis and will continue to make such services available to all MVPDs [multichannel-video-programming distributors] on a nonexclusive basis under nondiscriminatory terms and conditions.”

The FCC has not ruled on whether Web sites that stream channels of video programming are MVPDs within the meaning of federal communications law.

VDC filed a program-access complaint at the FCC last month against Time Warner in an effort to license several Turner Broadcasting System networks, including TNT, TBS, CNN and CNN Headline News. In the complaint, VDC insisted that it is an MVPD legally entitled to rely on the program-access rules.

VDC became the first Web site to demand access to cable programming under the program-access rules, which Congress created in 1992. Under the rules, satellite-delivered cable networks affiliated with cable operators must license their programming to other MVPDs.

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