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Judge Bars DirecTV HD Ads

A federal judge ruled Monday that DirecTV must stop running ads claiming that its HDTV service is superior to cable’s, pending the outcome of a false-advertising suit Time Warner Cable filed against the direct-broadcast satellite operator.

Judge Laura Taylor Swain of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted Time Warner’s request for a preliminary injunction to block DirecTV’s ads, featuring William Shatner and Jessica Simpson, from being shown while the lawsuit proceeds.

In December, Time Warner sued DirecTV for false advertising after the DBS operator ran the HD spots, as well as newspaper ads claiming that cable subscribers wouldn’t be able to watch games carried by NFL Network -- available on DirecTV, but not Time Warner -- that would have been available via local broadcast stations.

DirecTV originally agreed to stop running the HD-oriented comparative ads, which included the tag line: “For picture quality that beats cable, you’ve got to get DirecTV.”

However, DirecTV’s revised ads included a tag line that Time Warner contended was still false: “For an HD picture that can’t be beat, you’ve got to get DirecTV.” With the ruling Monday, the DBS operator is barred from making that claim.

Swain said DirecTV may still run comparative ads stating that its overall picture quality is better than Time Warner’s. In addition, she denied the MSO’s request that the DBS operator be required to run “corrective” ads.

In a prepared statement, DirecTV said, “We will continue to aggressively market our better overall picture quality, which is permitted by the court’s opinion, and soon far more HD capacity than cable. It's obvious [that Time Warner’s] strategy is to fight with us in the courts since they can't compete with our superior product in the marketplace. We are confident that we will prevail on both fronts.”

The judge set a pretrial conference for March 23.