Viacom, Time Warner Settle Mobile App Dispute

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Viacom and Time Warner Cable have settled their legal dispute over Time Warner's TWC TV iOS app. Time Warner customers will begin to have access to a variety of Viacom programming both in their homes and on the TWC TV app soon, as the new programming is added during the next few weeks.

The terms of the settlement are not known, and neither company is talking apart from the joint statement released yesterday afternoon. All either company is saying is that users of the TWC TV app will begin having access to programming from channels like VH1, Comedy Central, MTV, and others, and that both companies are pleased at the deal. Here is the joint statement the two companies issued:

Viacom and Time Warner Cable have agreed to resolve their pending litigations. All of Viacom’s programming will now be available to Time Warner Cable subscribers for in-home viewing via internet protocol-enabled devices such as iPads and Time Warner Cable will continue to carry Viacom’s Country Music Television (CMT) programming. In reaching the settlement agreement, Time Warner Cable and Viacom were also able to resolve other unrelated business matters to their mutual satisfaction. Neither side is conceding its original legal position or will have further comment.

Reading between the lines, it looks like both companies realized that continuing the legal battle would be both costly and time consuming, and that each stood to make considerably more money if they settled.

The dispute started last year when Time Warner released their TWC TV app. The app allows Time Warner subscribers to watch live TV programming on their iOS device anywhere in their house (i.e., on their home wi-fi network; nowhere else). Content providers like Viacom reacted poorly to the app's release, however. To them, the streaming app represented a new method of distribution that was not covered by their agreements with Time Warner. In short, they felt that Time Warner had the right to pipe their programming into your TV, but not into your iPad. The companies sued each other in Federal court. Viacom demanded (PDF) that Time Warner be ordered to cease its "unlicensed distribution" of Viacom's content, while Time Warner asked (PDF) for a ruling declaring that streaming to a subscriber's iPad was covered by existing distribution agreements.

Interestingly, it appears that neither company actually budged on the legal question. Note the bit at the end of the statement: "Neither side is conceding its original legal position." In other words, Viacom still thinks Time Warner doesn't have the right to stream Viacom's programming. The fact that Viacom has agreed to let them do it anyway raises very interesting questions about the terms of the settlement.

At any rate, if you're a Time Warner subscriber with an iPhone or iPad, you can get the app for free from the iOS App Store. You should be able to see programming from MTV, Comedy Central, and other Viacom properties over the next few weeks.

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