Cablevision Settles Set-Top Suit

The plaintiff's in a class action suit against Cablevision for allegedly tying access to some of its services to rental of a set-top box from the company say they have reached a settlement and want the court to affirm it.

According to a copy of the court document outlining Cablevision's settlement and asking the court to approve it, the plaintiffs (Cablevision subscribers) said that after "months of arms-length negotiations," the two sides have agreed to what the plaintiffs characterize as an "excellent outcome" for the settlement class, including "substantial injunctive relief."  That includes case, services and access to third-party set-tops.

According to the plaintiffs, the settlement obligates Cablevision to support certain third-party set-top boxes and work with third parties that want their boxes to operate on Cablevision systems.

The settlement comes as Altice and Cablevision try to get their proposed merger agreement through the regulatory process.

The immediate economic relief to Cablevision subs comes in the form of a free four-month subscription to Internet-delivered SundanceNow from AMC (billed as a $27.96 value) whether or not any of those subs file a claim. For those who do file, they can chose either a one-time credit on their bill (ranging from $20 to $40) or one of several services ranging in value between $50 and $140. Former subs can also file a claim and get a cash payment of $20-$40 depending on how long they were subs, plus SundanceNow.

The court will not rule on the settlement until a "fairness hearing," which only comes after the class is notified of the settlement and has a chance to weigh in. For its part, the attorneys for the class members who filed suit called it a "fair and reasonable" result beneficial to all members of the class.

The settlement follows six years of contentious litigation after plaintiffs charged Cablevision with antitrust violations for allegedly denying access to third-party boxes at competitive prices.

The parties started negotiating in May 2014, with the court overseeing the process, after years of motions, cross motions and depositions.

"Based on their experience, Class Counsel believe that this Settlement provides significant benefits to the Settlement Class, avoids the risks and delays associated with continued litigation, and is in the Settlement Class members’ best interest," the attorneys for the plaintiffs said. 

The affected class is "all persons in New Jersey, Connecticut, and New York who subscribed to Cablevision video services and paid a monthly fee to Cablevision to lease a Set-Top Box during the period April 30, 2004 to the [date of preliminary approval]."

Cablevision has also agreed to pay up to $9.5 million in attorneys fees.

“We will not comment beyond the publicly available filings in the litigation and note that the settlement is subject to approval of the Court," Cablevision said in a statement.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.