Cablers mount court case vs. unbundling

ITC ruling drawing ire

LONDON — The Independent Television Commission, the U.K.’s commercial TV regulator, could be facing a legal attack on four fronts over its recent decision to phase out TV channel bundling.

Flextech, the pay TV programmer, and Hollywood heavyweight Universal have applied to the high court for a judicial review of the regulations. Meanwhile, Discovery has confirmed that it is “instituting judicial proceedings.” Viacom, which had previously threatened to sue, is thought to be mulling over whether to join the protest.

What the companies are fighting is a ruling from the ITC in June ending minimum carriage requirements, a practice that guaranteed niche cable and satellite channels at least 80% distribution. Programmers fear that without guaranteed carriage, some niche channels will have to shut down.

Accused of acting ‘illegally’

Those opposing the ITC say it has instituted unfair changes to the rules of multichannel television in the U.K. In a statement, Flextech said the ITC was “outside of its legal authority” and that it had “acted illegally by interfering with existing contracts.”

The ITC, however, said that it has taken the “correct decision within our powers.” Doing away with bundling is intended to spur cable and satellite take-up, which has been held in check by consumer resistance to large and expensive TV channel packages.

The ITC has been taken to court over other issues in the past, but has never lost a judicial review.

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