Comcast has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on a four-year old antitrust suit brought by ad rep Viamedia that could cost the cable giant up to $500 million.
Viamedia sued Comcast in 2016, alleging the cable operator prevented it from representing advertisers in Chicago, Detroit and Hartford, Connecticut, by gaining control of local interconnects. Viamedia originally sued for $75 million in damages, which were later increased to $160 million. After trebling under antitrust laws and pre-judgment interest, the suit could cost Comcast as much as $500 million.
A lower court dismissed Viamedia’s claim that Comcast refused to deal with the company in 2016 and in 2018 granted the cable operator a summary judgment regarding Viamedia's exclusive dealing and tying claims. Viamedia appealed, and on Feb. 24, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed the lower court decision, adding that Viamedia’s claims were sufficient to present before a jury.
“The Seventh Circuit’s reversal of the district court’s careful and well-reasoned decision dismissing Viamedia’s claims is inconsistent with longstanding antitrust law, including decisions by the Supreme Court and other circuit courts,” Comcast said in a statement. “We’re asking the Supreme Court to correct this error.”
Viamedia had wanted the trial to start as soon as possible. In court documents it had pushed for discovery to begin in June and for the parties to have their first status conference on July 1, with summary judgments by Nov. 4. Comcast asked to stay discovery in a May 18 filing with the Appeals court, adding that it planned to file a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court on Sept. 4.
At the time Comcast said it was confident the Supreme Court would rule in its favor.
“Comcast believes that the Supreme Court is likely to grant the petition because the Seventh Circuit’s decision is inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s leading case on refusals to deal, creates a split with other circuits on the issues of refusals to deal and tying, and presents issues of nationwide importance concerning circumstances when the antitrust laws require competitors to cooperate with one another,” Comcast said in the May 18 filing.
Also in the May 18 filing, Comcast stressed that the case is legally and factually complex, and that “the current pandemic has made it difficult to move forward with even routine matters in this District and around the nation,” adding that depositions were not taking place, travel was dangerous and the ability to normally conduct business was uncertain.
“Further, Viamedia’s suggestion that the parties collect, review, and produce four years’ worth of documents in little more than a month would not be plausible even under normal circumstances,” Comcast continued.
As a result, Comcast suggested that the trial be pushed into next year, with the close of expert discovery on April 2, 2021 and the deadline for certain motions moved to May 28, 2021. In an Aug. 18 order, the Appeals Court said it found Viamedia’s shorter proposal “unreasonable and impractical,” and approved the Comcast proposal, provided Comcast submits an appended answer to the court by Sept. 15.
In a statement, Viamedia said it will oppose the Comcast Supreme Court petition.
“Comcast seeks to challenge the correct and well-reasoned decision of the Seventh Circuit, which held that Viamedia has jury-ready claims against Comcast for monopolizing in violation of the Sherman Act,” Viamedia said in a statement. “The parties are now engaged in additional discovery in the district court, and we are looking forward to being able to present our case at trial next year. The cable television advertising ‘Interconnects’ were intended to provide for a fair, inclusive, efficient and competitive marketplace for advertisers, cable operators and consumers, which is more important than ever in the face of new challenges to the advertising economy.”
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Mike Farrell is senior content producer, finance for Multichannel News/B+C, covering finance, operations and M&A at cable operators and networks across the industry. He joined Multichannel News in September 1998 and has written about major deals and top players in the business ever since. He also writes the On The Money blog, offering deeper dives into a wide variety of topics including, retransmission consent, regional sports networks,and streaming video. In 2015 he won the Jesse H. Neal Award for Best Profile, an in-depth look at the Syfy Network’s Sharknado franchise and its impact on the industry.