At issue is Time Warner Cable's recently launched iPad application that allows its subscribers to watch live television on the tablet. Many programmers, including Viacom, have told the cable operator it does not have the rights to stream their content on the iPad.
Last week, in response to those complaints, Time Warner Cable pulled 12 networks from its iPad app, including Viacom's MTV and Comedy Central. Other channels that Time Warner dropped include News Corp.'s FX and Discovery's TLC.
Now, Time Warner Cable has asked a federal court to rule that it is within its rights to stream Viacom's cable channels over the iPad.
"We have steadfastly maintained that we have the rights to allow our customers to view this programming in their homes, over our cable systems, without artificial limits on the screens they can use to do so, and we are asking the court to confirm our view," said Time Warner Cable general counsel Marc Lawrence-Apfelbaum. The company's filing was made Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Viacom quickly countered the same day with a filing seeking an injunction preventing Time Warner Cable from putting its channels back on the iPad app.
Noting that it has agreements with other digital platforms for streaming of its channels, Viacom said in a statement that Time Warner Cable "blatantly grabbed the rights that their competitors have negotiated in good faith to obtain."
Viacom added that "with $5.2 billion in cash from operations last year, Time Warner Cable can certainly afford to provide our programming through this new broadband service without passing along any additional costs to its customers."
Channels that remain available on the app include Time Warner Inc.'s CNN, Bravo and MSNBC, which is owned by Comcast's NBC Universal, and ABC Family, a unit of Walt Disney Co., which counts Apple chief Steve Jobs as a board member.
Time Warner Cable is not the only pay-TV distributor with an iPad app that is meeting resistance. Cablevision Systems Corp. also launched an app, and Viacom and other programmers have made complaints that their contracts are being violated.
Besides wanting to be paid for streaming rights, programmers fear that because iPad viewing is not tracked by ratings service Nielsen, they won't get paid by advertisers for all the eyeballs they are delivering.