New York cable operator Cablevision is facing legal action from several major media groups over its networked digital TV recorder.
US television broadcasters and Hollywood movie studios including Time Warner's CNN and Cartoon Network divisions, NBC Universal, CBS Paramount, Fox and ABC owner Walt Disney have launched a lawsuit claiming that Cablevision's new digital TV recorder is illegal because, unlike its traditional rivals, it acts in the same way as video-on-demand (VOD) technology.
Recorded shows are stored on Cablevision's servers, rather than on the hard drives of set-top boxes in subscribers' homes, and can be called up at any time. As with other digital TV recorders, otherwise known as personal video recorders or PVRs, commercials can be entirely skipped over.
The aggrieved media groups are demanding that Cablevision negotiates a new licensing deal that will pay out separate fees for what appears to be a VOD service, with the cable operator effectively controlling content that it has not paid for.
However, Cablevision argues that there is no legal difference between 'time-shifting' shows via a PVR's hard drive or via networked servers, with the latter solution providing no additional benefit to end users.
At the time of the networked PVR's launch earlier this year, Cablevision's chief operating officer, Tom Rutledge, told Reuters that broadcast networks in the US had already been informed about the nature of the service.
The company added that providing the new service was less costly than fitting customers with digital TV recorders because it works from set-top boxes already in subscribers' homes.
This has created much concern among broadcasters and advertisers, who fear that the success of a networked DVR could greatly transform viewing habits by introducing ad-skipping technology to every household in the US equipped with digital television.
The new lawsuit puts this potential problem into stark relief given the likelihood that if Cablevision successfully avoids legal censure, other companies would quickly introduce their own versions of networked PVRs.
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