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Ivi TV Creeps Into Retrans Fight

While the high-profile Cablevision/Fox retrans impasse impelled NFL home-team blackouts, online video site Ivi TV was busy blitzing customers, wooing them to its streaming service. Meanwhile, major broadcasters, shouting piracy, are throwing up a block.

Ivi (pronounced “ivy”) made the rounds at CTAM in New Orleans two weeks ago, according to company spokesman Hal Bringman, who adds that he has an equity stake in the venture. Ivi tried to get a meeting with Cablevision at CTAM to pitch the service, according to e-mails from Bringman to company executives obtained by MultichannelNews.

Neither Fox nor Cablevision would comment, but a Cablevision executive speaking on background said they had not heard of either Ivi or the pitch. Fox is familiar with Ivi, however. Along with other broadcasters, Fox sued the company for copyright infringement over its streaming of TV stations without a retrans deal.

Ivi bills itself as an online cable service that compensates broadcasters collectively per copyright law, and through a collective statutory license, but one that does not have to pay retransmission fees to individual local TV stations to stream their channels. It has asked a U.S. District Court in Seattle to rule that retransmitting TV-station signals over the Web is not copyright infringement.

In an e-mail to a Cablevision exec, Bringman stated: “Working together, we can offer your subscribers a ready-made ‘TV Everywhere’ solution empowering them to watch the channels News Corp. has taken away during their extortion attempt with you.”

At press time, Ivi was streaming on its site WWOR and WNYW, two of the three Fox stations kept off Cablevision systems since Oct. 15.

Bringman is pitching the move as a PR win for Cablevision, suggesting that the cable operator offer the service free to subscribers. “This solution is a press release and deal memo away,” Bringman wrote in another e-mail to the company. “You could be generating significant amounts of goodwill PR that makes your frustrated customers happy and shows Fox you can [alleviate] a lot of their perceived leverage against you.”

Fox would not comment on the e-mail, but entered it in the record in its copyright infringement suit against Ivi.

Ivi launched Sept. 13, billing itself as an online cable service for $4.99 per month, compared to the average $71/mo. for traditional cable service.

Ivi founder Todd Weaver is also marketing the service as a way to get around NFL home-team blackouts. Local coverage is blacked out if a home team’s stadium is not sold out 72 hours in advance, though the NFL has granted extensions in the current economic climate.

According to an NFL spokesperson, of the season’s first 90 games, nine were blacked out (10%), compared to six blackouts through the first 90 games last season.

The spokesman said the NFL does not agree with Ivi’s position. But when asked whether the league was planning to file suit, the spokesman said he was “not in a position to discuss legal matters under consideration.”

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