IceTV cracks Nine - a win for viewers
By Adam TURNER
By crushing the Nine Network's efforts to block IceTV's online TV guide, the High Court has also struck a blow against the broadcasters' efforts to control viewers.
Despite all the hype, the Freeview digital TV campaign is primarily about convincing people to use Personal Video Recorders which don't allow ad-skipping. The free-to-air broadcasters fear services such as IceTV because they provide a full Electronic Program Guide to devices which do allow ad-skipping, such as PVRs from the likes of Topfield and Beyonwiz, along with computer-based recorders.
IceTV does NOT allow you to skip ads - something the mainstream media still still struggles to understand. IceTV only makes it more practical to use those PVRs which do allow ad-skipping. Rather than attack the large foreign makers of ad-skipping PVRs, Nine found it easier to attack a small local EPG provider. Nine timed its legal challenge in 2006 to come just days before IceTV was due to float on the stock exchange, forcing IceTV to scuttle the float and hand back cheques to investors. Nine could regret this when it comes time for the court to award damages.
Back when IceTV began in 2005, Australia's networks were only supplying "now and next" EPG data in their broadcast signal. These days the networks offer a full EPG, but part of Freeview's FUD campaign has been to scare people into thinking they'll need to buy gear with a Freeview logo in order to view the EPG. When I pressed Freeview chief executive Robin Parkes on the issue, she conceded that the Freeview EPG will be nothing but the standard EPG with a fancy interface. Eventually Parkes also conceded that around half of the Freeview-branded devices to go on sale in May will be "Phase 1" boxes that can't actually use this fancy MHEG-5-based interface.
Had Nine defeated IceTV and legally locked away the EPG data, Freeview could have gradually phased out the the free-to-air EPG (or just crippled it), forcing punters to buy a Freeview box if they wanted access to the EPG. Now that IceTV has won the right to exist, Freeview will have to maintain the free-to-air EPG lest it force more viewers into the arms of IceTV or other third-party EPG providers.
The High Court judgement leaves the door open for legit IceTV competitors to spring up. While the court agrees that Nine does hold copyright over the TV schedule as a whole, a close reading of the judgement indicates that basic individual facts - such as the title and start times of programs - should not be counted when considering if a service such as IceTV is copying a "substantial" part of the guide. This doesn't open the flood gates for everyone to copy and paste each day's guide to create their own EPG service, but it does mean that IceTV and others are entitled to produce EPGs as long as they follow the correct procedures.
The Freeview marketing blitzkrieg is about to go into overdrive but, thanks to IceTV's victory, the broadcasters are losing their grip on Australia's lounge rooms.
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