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Network-DVR Battle: Cablevision Sued

Cablevision Systems Corp.’s plan to offer subscribers a network-based digital-video-recorder service will soon be tested in federal court after several major studios and networks sued the cable distributor Wednesday afternoon.

Plaintiffs 20th Century Fox Film Corp., Universal City Studios, Paramount Pictures, Disney Enterprises, CBS Broadcasting, ABC Inc. and NBC Studios asked the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York for an injunction that would block Cablevision from continuing its plan to test a network DVR on Long Island, N.Y.

Comcast Corp., Time Warner Cable and other major cable operators have cheered Cablevision’s plan, saying that they would also like the ability to market network DVRs -- a service that could allow operators to quickly deploy a subscription DVR service that could run on inexpensive digital set-tops, saving the cost of rolling out $500 boxes containing DVRs.

The networks and studios complained in the suit that Cablevision hasn’t reached programming deals for the network-DVR service. But Cablevision maintained that a network DVR would operate no differently than a DVR in a customer’s home, and that it therefore doesn’t need to cut programming deals for the service.

“This lawsuit is without merit, reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of Cablevision’s remote-storage DVR and ignores the enormous benefit and well-established right of viewers to time-shift television programming,” Cablevision said in a statement issued Wednesday night.

“Cablevision’s remote-store DVR will allow many more consumers to enjoy these benefits at a lower cost, and we hope and expect that the court will allow our customer-friendly technological approach to move forward,” the MSO added.

The studios and networks argued in the complaint that Cablevision’s network DVR is actually a video-on-demand programming service -- which requires license deals with programmers -- masked as a DVR.

“While Cablevision will call its service ‘RS-DVR’, presumably to make it sound like a mere extension of digital-video-recording equipment, the proposed service is nothing of the kind,” the plaintiffs wrote in the complaint.

“Cablevision’s proposed service is an unauthorized video-on-demand service that would undermine the video-on-demand, download, mobile-device and other novel and traditional services that plaintiffs and other copyright owners have developed and are actively licensing into the marketplace,” the plaintiffs added.

Several of the plaintiffs, including NBC and Fox, have cut deals to sell programming via Apple Computer Inc.’s iTunes store. Others, including ABC and CBS, have plans to distribute programming via their own Web sites.