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Time Warner Cable Sues DirecTV

Time Warner Cable  filed a lawsuit in a New York federal court against DirecTV Thursday alleging that the direct-broadcast satellite operator falsely advertised that Time Warner subscribers wouldn’t be able to watch specific games carried by NFL Network.

In addition, the cable operator claimed that DirecTV’s ads touting its supposedly superior HDTV picture quality were also false. Those TV ads, featuring William Shatner and Jessica Simpson, include the tag line: “For picture quality that beats cable, you’ve got to get DirecTV.”

A DirecTV spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment on the suit.

In the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Time Warner Cable said DirecTV ran newspaper ads in New York; Green Bay, Wis.; Cincinnati and elsewhere claiming that viewers in those cities wouldn’t be able to see certain games carried by NFL Network unless they subscribed to DirecTV.

“That claim is false because all eight games featured on the NFL Network will also be available to local fans over broadcast networks,” Time Warner Cable spokesman Mark Harrad said in a prepared statement.

For example, DirecTV placed ads in Newsday and the New York Post on Thanksgiving claiming that the Dec. 30 game between the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins would be unavailable to “4.4 million people in New York” -- a reference to cable subscribers in the market -- unless they subscribed to DirecTV.

In fact, according to Time Warner Cable, subscribers in New York City will be able to watch the Dec. 30 game on local broadcast affiliate WNBC.

NFL Network has been rebuffed by two of the largest cable operators, Time Warner Cable and Cablevision Systems. The network currently is available from Comcast, Insight Communications, DirecTV and EchoStar Communications’ Dish Network. Verizon Communications also has an agreement to carry the network on its FiOS TV service.

According to Time Warner Cable, on Nov. 27, DirecTV agreed to modify the ads so that future “advertisements in a particular market would not refer to the local game that may be broadcast in that market on the local affiliate.”

Subsequently, the cable operator alleged, DirecTV ran ads Nov. 30 and Dec. 7 listing the six remaining games on the NFL Network’s schedule -- including the Giants-Redskins game -- that repeated the claim that “Time Warner Cable ... decided not to air these six games” and reiterating that customers would need to get NFL Network to see the games.

Meanwhile, a separate case challenging the quality of DirecTV’s HD programming is pending in Los Angeles.

On Sept. 18, California attorney Philip K. Cohen filed a class-action lawsuit with the Superior Court of Los Angeles County against DirecTV. His suit alleged that its service was substandard for five HD channels: HBO HD, HDNet Movies, Bravo HD, Showtime HD and DirecTV HDTV pay-per-view.

Cohen specifically claimed that DirecTV compressed the HD channels as low as 6.6 megabits per second and, therefore, that they weren’t at a level that can be considered HD-quality. The industry standard for highest-quality broadcast HD signals is 19.4 mbps.

DirecTV director of public relations Robert Mercer, reached for comment late Thursday, said, “We absolutely believe Cohen’s claims are without merit.” He added that Cohen’s estimates on compression were incorrect, although he declined to provide actual figures.