Less than two weeks ago, we reported that startup Ivi, Inc. deployed its live television application enabling viewers to watch live broadcast television over an Internet connection. They even went as far as to launch a preemptive strike against the very networks whose content they are carrying, by filing a federal lawsuit in Seattle seeking a declaratory ruling that Ivi isn’t infringing copyrights. Well, it didn’t take long for the networks to respond, first, in the form of a cease-and-desist letter, and now, in a retaliatory strike. ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and other broadcasters have sued Ivi and its founder Todd Weaver for copyright infringement in a federal court complaint in New York.
The plaintiffs also include PBS, WPIX, WGBH, WNET.org, Univision, Telemundo, Cox, Cox Media, Tribune Television, Fisher Broadcasting, and Major League Baseball. Ivi’s suit claims that the company is not infringing copyright on the basis of a compulsory license, and the fact that they are paying a royalty fee to the US copyright office. The actions by the broadcasters clearly demonstrate that this reasoning is not holding any water for them, and that they fully intend to hold the upper hand in the distribution of their content.
But wait — there’s more. On the same day that the broadcasters filed their suit, another Internet content distributor has come out of the woodwork. London-based FilmOn has launched another service, very similar to Ivi, that distributes over-the-air TV programming to Internet PC and iPhone viewers — and they are suspected of not paying royalties to the networks at all. Basic subscription cost is $9.95/mo., HD is in the works, and so is adult content. In addition, the company plans to provide in-depth media analytics on content usage and audience engagement — metrics that are all-important to content providers and advertisers. Knowing how many people are actually consuming the content goes far to support that part of the value chain.
According to company information, the key features of the FilmOn HD Network include a highly distributed and high-capacity network that supports a broadcast scale audience at HD bitrates, fast video start-up times and uninterrupted playback, along with an interactive and personalized experience with DVR capabilities. (This literally describes the functionality of the Akamai HD Network; it’s reasonable to suspect that Akamai is providing the delivery infrastructure for FilmOn.)
Playing up on the same "more content consumption is good" mantra pushed by Ivi, FilmOn Chairman Alki David says in a press release, "Our platform is designed to be easily customized for broadcasters and advertisers who wish to get into the online broadcast business quickly and with minimal expense. FilmOn is currently in negotiations with all major cable providers and plans to provide complete syndicated cable television services throughout the U.S. in 2011."
Billionaire Alki David, listed as the 45th richest man in the U.K., is seen as somewhat of a maverick, having starred in several films and television series, and being a serial Internet entrepreneur and shipping magnate. Most recently, David received notoriety when he publicly offered a prize of $1 million to anyone who streaks naked before President Obama, as a promotion for FilmOn’s social networking site BattleCam.com. Despite his antics, the important factor here is that David’s company, already funded to the tune of more than 50 million euros, and in beta since September 2009, may have the deep pockets needed to shore up a serious affront to the established networks and content distributors. At press time, both services were still up and streaming. We live in interesting times.