ITV, C4, Five Jointly File In Court Against TVCatchup, Who’s Next?

We’ve covered TV re-streaming services like Zattoo and TVCatchup for the last couple of years now and, regardless of any opinions those services think we have about their legality, it’s always been a case of when – rather than if – the broadcasters would object.

We’ve charted the broadcasters’ response, in that period – from a kind of shoulder shrug, to not being particularly happy, to each, when we last spoke in April, telling us that Zattoo was behaving illegally.

The BBC convinced Zattoo to remove its channels. Now, as ITV (LSE: ITV), Channel 4 and Five’s last statements suggested, they are actually doing something about the other operator.

In a joint statement confirming FT’s story, they tell us…

“ITV, Channel 4 and Five can confirm that they issued joint legal proceedings against TVCatchup, a web-based TV streaming service.

TVCatchup do not have a content distribution agreement in place to stream content from any of our channels. We reserve the right to pursue any site or service we believe to be infringing our copyright or using our content in an unlicensed, illegal capacity.”

So, with hours to go before the World Cup kicks off in what ITV hopes will be a boon for its audience ad impressions, things have quickly moved beyond the cease-and-desist stage.

Such services have claimed they are allowed to re-stream UK public service channels because they qualify as cable operators, which are allowed to re-air the channels under section 73 of the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act.

It’s a lot less controversial than TVCatchup’s original incarnation as a supposed web-based PVR – but the practice of inserting ads in to the period before channels load up was always likely to rile the broadcasters.

But ITV simulcasts its channels live at itself and is planning to simulcast to iPhone starting with the World Cup, which is forecast to add between one and two percent to commercial channels’ ad income this summer according to Screen Digest. Indeed, ITV is now properly looking at cross-selling ads across and TV.

We don’t know what kind of legal action has been filed, but it may be for an injunction. In which case, it’s quite literally a bit late in the day to be taking action that’s aimed at maximising World Cup income.

Zattoo, which has always been stronger in its native Switzerland, even has some formal carriage agreements with continental broadcasters. There’s plenty of opportunity for more TVCatchup strife – it currently carries a total 38 channels.

Our opinion: a legal hearing is necessary to clear up the uncertainty, whatever the result. Like Zattoo, TVCatchup’s users certainly value the service being there – it may be that it’s entirely right that third parties can re-air publicly-funded or otherwise public service channels as widely as possible, with certain provisos.

Other similar services, like mobile TV restreamer Yamgo, may also find themselves the subject of broadcaster attention.

But, Channel 4 tells paidContent:UK: “Not as this stage. We are aware of, and are in correspondence with, certain other unauthorised services.”