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HBO Exec: Sling Slags Copyrights

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News Analysis
Light Reading
4/25/2006
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LAS VEGAS -- NAB 2006 -- Sling Media Inc. says its “place shifting” product is good for content owners and distributors, but at least one content owner -- Time Warner Inc. (NYSE: TWX) division HBO -- disagrees. (See Sling Media: We're Good for Cable.)

“Content owners don’t like it [Sling] because they think it violates their copyrights,” HBO CTO Bob Zitter said during a panel here Tuesday. Zitter’s comment came in response to a question from the audience concerning how new technologies are changing the way content is distributed.

Sling Media's “SlingBox” grabs the TV signal at the home and slings it out over a broadband connection to a laptop, cell phone, or any other connected device. Where Tivo allows viewers to “time shift” their programming, Sling allows them to “place shift” it. (See LR Picks Best New Services.)

Sling Media CEO Blake Krikorian said during a Congressional hearing last month that his SlingBox device enables viewers to spend more time watching TV by expanding TV-watching opportunities far beyond the living room. That, he argues, should be a welcome technology for content owners and distributors.

After his keynote address here, HBO's Zitter wasn’t eager to expand on his on-stage comments. He told Light Reading: “I’m not going to go any deeper into it than that. There are still a number of legal issues that need to be worked out.”

Asked if legal proceedings were underway against Sling, Zitter said: “Not involving us, but from others.” When asked if HBO was planning such legal actions, Zitter replied: “I don’t think I want to say.”

Sling said in an email Tuesday it had nothing to say about Zitter's comments. So maybe they are being sued.

Sling’s defense on the subject of copyright violation is that its product neither records the video nor does it send it to more than one end point at a time.

But content owners like Warner Brothers are themselves very bullish on delivering their programs via broadband and over wireless connections. Nobody, in the U.S. at least, is making bank selling video this way, but if consumer trends in other parts of the world are any indicator, such service will soon catch on. If it does, Sling's product would be a direct competitive threat to content owners. Then, the legal departments of the content owners may have a real reason to take up the fight against Sling.

HBO's Zitter noted that Sling is not the only company doing time-shifting and place-shifting of video content.

Zitter says HBO has an exclusive mobile distribution deal with Cingular Wireless and also distributes its content to cell phones in nine countries outside the U.S.

— Mark Sullivan, Shape-Shifting Reporter, Light Reading

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