Archive for Saturday, December 9, 2006

Satellite ad dispute escalates

December 9, 2006

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— A bitter dispute between cable and satellite TV over the broadcast of NFL games has intensified, with Time Warner Cable Inc. accusing DirecTV Group Inc. of deceptive trade practices.

The lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan claims DirecTV lied about the accessibility of NFL broadcasts in an attempt to pry away customers from Time Warner Cable.

The suit seeks unspecified damages and a court order to stop DirecTV from saying in advertising that Time Warner Cable subscribers cannot watch their local NFL team play games when DirecTV is showing games on the NFL Network.

"These ads are blatantly false," the lawsuit filed Thursday said, citing newspaper advertisements claiming that the Dec. 30 game between the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins will not be available to 4.4 million people in New York unless they join DirecTV.

In fact, the game will be broadcast to Time Warner Cable customers in New York on WNBC-TV, even if the residents are not DirecTV customers, the lawsuit said.

Robert Mercer, a DirecTV spokesman, said the company had no immediate comment on the lawsuit.

For the first time ever, NFL games this season are being broadcast on the NFL Network, which is available to DirecTV customers but not to many cable customers. The move has angered many fans who don't get the NFL Network, while stepping up the fight between satellite and cable over the lucrative NFL market.

In its lawsuit, Time Warner said false ads were causing Time Warner Cable immediate and irreparable harm because once customers switch from cable to satellite, it is difficult to persuade them to switch back because of switching costs involved and lengthy contracts.

The lawsuit accused DirecTV of making similar claims about football broadcasts in advertising aimed at people in Green Bay, Wis., Cincinnati and elsewhere when games feature cities' home teams.

"These false ads were obviously targeted at markets where DirecTV believes that loyalty to the local football team will drive consumer purchasing decisions," the lawsuit said.

Time Warner Cable also accused DirecTV of using advertising featuring actress Jessica Simpson and actor William Shatner to say its high-definition television service provides a picture quality that is superior to Time Warner Cable's high-definition service.

Time Warner Cable said those ads were also false because both companies provide exactly the same screen resolution. At best, the lawsuit said, DirecTV's picture quality is "merely equivalent."

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