Time Warner: DirecTV’s ‘More HD’ Ads False

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Time Warner Cable filed a request in a Manhattan federal court Wednesday for a preliminary injunction to block DirecTV’s ads claiming that the direct-broadcast satellite operator can offer “more HD capacity than cable.”

The TV spots, which feature Back to the Future actor Christopher Lloyd, tout DirecTV’s plans to roll out 100 new HD channels “soon” and include the tag line, “For a future of 150 HD channels, get DirecTV.”

Time Warner, in filings with U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, challenged DirecTV’s claim that it will have three times more HD capacity than cable and the cable operator said it could increase its bandwidth capacity “in the near future” to provide more than 200 HD channels.

In an affidavit, Time Warner senior network engineer Ronald E. Boyer said the operator could offer more than 200 HD networks using a combination of technologies, including reclaiming analog bandwidth, improving signal compression, broadcasting MPEG-4 video streams and implementing node-splitting and switched digital video.

“Accordingly, DirecTV’s claims that it will have ‘three times more HD capacity than cable’ by carrying ‘150 HD channels’ in the future is false and misleading,” Boyer’s statement said.

The cabler also cast doubt on DirecTV’s own ability to carry 150 HD channels. Boyer pointed to last month’s explosion of a rocket carrying a Dutch satellite on Boeing’s Sea Launch floating platform in the Pacific Ocean. DirecTV had planned to use the same platform to launch the second of two satellites this year to provide additional HD carrying capacity.

Finally, Time Warner pointed out that there are currently “far fewer than 150 networks with HD programming available.”

In a statement, DirecTV senior vice president of advertising and public relations Jon Gieselman said: "We believe this is just another example of Time Warner's frustration that they cannot compete in the marketplace with DirecTV so they have resorted to the courts.”

He added that the DBS operator is “moving full-steam ahead” with the launch of its additional satellites to increase its HD capacity, as the Lloyd commercial “accurately represents.”

The Time Warner action is the latest development in its false-advertising suit against DirecTV. In December, the MSO sued DirecTV after the DBS operator ran the HD spots, as well as newspaper ads, claiming that cable subscribers wouldn’t be able to watch games carried by NFL Network -- available on DirecTV, but not Time Warner Cable -- that would have been available via local broadcast stations.

On Feb. 5, Judge Laura Taylor Swain granted Time Warner Cable’s request for a preliminary injunction preventing DirecTV from running ads in Time Warner markets claiming to provide superior HD quality. DirecTV said it plans to appeal the decision.

Those two TV spots -- one featuring actress/singer/reality TV star Jessica Simpson and another with ex-Star Trek front man William Shatner -- carried the tag line: “For an HD picture that can’t be beat, get DirecTV.”

In her ruling, Swain said both DirecTV and Time Warner Cable broadcast HD channels at 1080i, a specification defined by the Advanced Television Systems Committee.

“Providers such as TWC and DirecTV do not set the screen resolution for HDTV programming, but instead make available sufficient bandwidth to permit the relevant level of resolution to pass to customers,” she wrote. The DirecTV commercials’ assertion that “a viewer cannot ‘get the best picture’ without DirecTV is therefore likely to be proven literally false in that the undisputed factual record here establishes that DirecTV and TWC provide HD pictures of equal quality.”

Swain also ordered DirecTV to pull from its Web site a purported side-by-side comparison of its HD picture quality versus “basic cable,” in which the cable picture is depicted as highly pixelated, along with Web banner ads with the same claims.

However, the judge said DirecTV may still run comparative ads stating that its overall picture quality is better than Time Warner Cable’s because there wasn’t enough evidence to establish the falsity of DirecTV’s claim that its all-digital lineup is superior to “cable’s mix of digital and analog.”

In addition, she denied the cabler’s request that the DBS operator be required to run corrective ads. “The court does not believe that the extraordinary relief of corrective advertising is warranted in this case,” she wrote.

Gieselman said the Simpson and Shatner ads cycled out of rotation almost two months ago, anyway. “We will continue to aggressively market our better overall picture quality, which is permitted by the court’s opinion,” he said in a statement.

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