McAdams On: Guerilla PR-Steal and Sue the Owner

No one in the television industry heard of ivi TV last week. Now it’s all over the trades. The Seattle TV hijacker made a big deal out of offering network TV shows on the Internet for $4.99 a month. Except for ivi forgot to negotiate rights for network TV shows.

ivi CEO Todd Weaver told GigaOm’sJanko Roettgers last week he expected “a typical knee-jerk reaction from the industry.” Weaver’s prediction was not far afield. Folks are prickly about theft. It’s what’s otherwise known as “illegal.”

But Weaver doesn’t believe he’s stealing. He believes that paying semi-annual fees to the U.S. Copyright Office is sufficient because he considers ivi a type of cable system. Five broadcast networks, along with Major League Baseball, a movie studio, two public TV stations and Fisher Communications begged to differ and presented ivi with cease-and-desist letters. What they got in return was an act of hubris so blatant as to rival a North Korean Elvis impersonator, only in a cooler and more digital way.

Weaver, et al, sued the content providers in U.S. District Court in Seattle on Monday. The company has since exploded into a public relations Hasbro action figure.

NEWS FLASH: (PR Flackwire) Tiny, Ragtag Band of Coders Face Off With Evil Giant Broadcasters!

“ivi, Inc., remains steadfastly on the side of the consumer, refusing to allow big media to limit consumers’ choice or its technology,” said the little company that could steal.

Trades picked up ivi’s maneuver and spread it far and wide because we’ve got quotas and the Internet, together which create a giant, gaping chasm demanding to be filled with news or something like it. And who doesn’t love a man-bites-dog story? Who in their right mind sues Disney, News Corp., General Electric, Tribune and the MLB--simultaneously? They collectively have enough lawyers to spontaneously restart the human race on another planet.

The folks at ivi clearly weren’t in the orchestra section when News Corp. lawyers single-handedly dictated the TV station ownership cap in Washington, D.C. They’ve obviously not paid a speck of attention to the way network barristers flog federal attorneys over everything from expletives to asset portfolios.

As if the flood of press coverage over ivi’s lawsuit weren’t enough, the National Association of Broadcasters issued a statement about it. “Go away,” it sort of said. “We’ve seen the likes of you before.”

To which ivi’s flack, Hal Bringman, responded, “No, you have not! For we are here to defend the people from your evil tyranny!”

Bringman, whom the White House should hire yesterday, actually brought out the iWord: “We believe the copyright claims are unsubstantiated and are really just camouflage for trying to stifle innovation and competition.”

Nothing, but nothing, is considered more backward, Luddite and indefensible in certain corners of Washington than being perceived as stifling innovation, thanks to Google, Apple and a score of other giant tech companies with powerful lobbies. The recording industry hasn’t helped matters by suing a cheerleader for sharing songs. Neither has Washington helped matters by waffling between the platform and content lobbies. Neither has the tech industry helped by resisting the provision of reliable content protection schemes that allow creators to elect whether or not their material is shared.

As clever and fashionable as it is to accuse “big media” of “trying to stifle innovation,” it’s just baloney. NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, et al, have done nothing to stop ivi from bringing its software to the market. ivi, like every other TV platform, is free to negotiate and cut deals, or to generate content of its own. It’s free to “compete” with other video players to be licensed by a big media company.

What it should not be allowed to do, is steal. The TV landscape is vulgar enough as it is. If ivi is allowed to filch “NCIS,” “House,” “Bones,” “Criminal Minds,” and other top network shows, TV will be left with “Dancing with Dirtbags from Joe’s Topless Truck Stop.”

Depends on what you consider “innovative,” I guess.