Time Warner Cable is taking Viacom to court in a case that exposes a schism in the cable TV industry over who has licensing rights to show television programs over Internet-connected gadgets such as the iPad tablet computer.
Time Warner Cable argues that it is allowed under its existing contract to show Viacom's content in consumers' homes regardless of the type of device they view it on. Viacom disagrees and wants to be able to charge more money for the capability.
The fight centers on an "app" that Time Warner Cable launched last month that streams live television to Apple's iPad tablet, but it has broader implications as the industry tries to sort out who's owed what when content is viewed in the home on screens other than the television set.
The rise of smartphones and tablets, combined with ubiquitous high-speed Internet connections, is giving people new ways of watching TV that don't involve their actual televisions. Figuring out licensing rights for content shown on the new gadgets is new terrain.
Time Warner Cable filed its case against Viacom on Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Time Warner Cable has been embroiled in controversy since releasing the app. It was forced to drop a dozen cable channels after three big programmers — Viacom, Discovery Communications Inc. and News Corp.'s Fox Cable Networks — complained that the companies' existing license agreements didn't cover distributing the content to the iPad.
Time Warner Cable's app only works for people who pay for the company's video and Internet service and are using the iPad in their homes, while connected to the company's modem through a Wi-Fi router. The company is asking for a "declaratory judgment" — a ruling that Time Warner is within its rights under the current agreement to show the programming that it has licensed to customers regardless of the type of screen it's viewed on in their homes.