Cease-and-Desist Letters Start Flying Over Time Warner Cable iPad App

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Following protests from angry broadcasters, Time Warner Cable has pulled several channels from an iPad app that streams some of the company’s programming to its customers.
News Corp., Viacom, Scripps Networks and Discovery Communications have all claimed that Time Warner violated its contracts with them by streaming their channels without consent. Both Viacom and News Corp. recently sent cease-and-desist letters to TWC.
In an interview with Bloomberg, entertainment attorney John Handel said that News Corp.’s letter could possibly be the first step in a lawsuit against Time Warner.
“The legal issues will likely focus on how the programming rights’ contracts were worded,” Handel said. “These cases occur under a cloud where contracts were signed in a preexisting world when new technologies weren’t around yet. If they had anticipated the new technology and talked about it specifically, you wouldn’t have the problem.”
While the broadcasters believe that they should be compensated separately for any digital streaming rights, TWC contends that the iPad is essentially just another kind of TV screen, especially since it can only be used to stream channels within the viewer’s home.
That probably won’t be enough to satisfy the broadcasters, though.
“If it’s not the portability issue, there’s the ad-insertion issue,” one broadcasting exec told Adweek after the app was first unveiled. “There are a lot of things to be wary of when someone starts moving your stuff around.”
TWC has made it clear that it doesn’t plan to back down from the fight. Taking the populist tack it’s adopted in these kinds of fights with broadcasters recently, the company said in a statement, “The enthusiasm of our customers and the programming partners who have embraced the app, rather than those who are solely focused on finding additional ways to reach into wallets of their own viewers, has convinced us more than ever that we are on the right path.”

@adweekemma emma.bazilian@adweek.com Emma Bazilian is Adweek's features editor.