As Cablevision Launches New App, Its Legal Battle With Viacom Heats Up

The “party line” from pay TV companies about iPad apps is clear now-it’s another television screen, not a new internet-based form of distribution. Some TV networks don’t care for that theory. Viacom (NYSE: VIA) has sued both Cablevision (NYSE: CVC) and Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) over the issue. Cablevision’s new roll-out of its Optimum App to iPhones and iPod touches today-putting yet more content on more mobile devices-suggests this battle isn’t going to quiet down anytime soon.

At least some of Cablevision’s press release suggests it was written with an eye to court battles. For example, it carefully notes that “content is not delivered over the Internet,” and in fact cable subscribers don’t even need internet access to use the app. Most importantly, the company says (emphasis mine):

The Optimum App turns these display devices into additional televisions in the home, enabling Cablevision customers to view the same live programming and VOD content already being delivered to other TVs in the home as part of the service they have paid for. Cablevision has the right to distribute programming over its cable system to in-home iPhones, iPods, iPads and other devices functioning as televisions under its existing distribution agreements with programming providers.

Note the “in-home” qualifier-the Cablevision Optimum App only works on mobile device that are inside the house, because that’s the kind of viewing they believe is covered by their existing agreements. TWC’s app abides by the same restriction.

Viacom sued Cablevision in June. The suit argues that Cablevision’s app, which streams Viacom shows without an additional license, is a violation of both its contract with Viacom and U.S. copyright law.

Cablevision’s formal response to Viacom’s allegations is now due on Aug. 16.

The Cablevision action was Viacom’s second lawsuit over TV-on-iPad apps; the company filed a similar lawsuit against Time Warner (NYSE: TWX) Cable in April. The Viacom v. TWC litigation has been in a “standstill” mode since June; that seems to suggest both sides feel the negotiations are at least somewhat productive.