Ruling gives Time Warner OK to strip Gemstar's VBI
Putting to bed a drawn out, bitter debate, the Federal Communications Commission has ruled that Time Warner Cable's analog must-carry obligations don't include the carriage of Gemstar-TV Guide International's vertical blanking interval (VBI) technology.
"Must-carry obligations do not require the company to carry material inserted in the (VBI) of over-the-air broadcast stations at the behest of Gemstar International," the FCC said in a statement.
Gemstar developed Guide Plus+, an electronic program guide built into TVs and VCRs made by its licensees. It sends data for program listing updates through the VBI of the signal of analog over-the-air broadcast stations. The EPG doesn't function without the programming updates.
TWC, in a filing, asked the FCC to determine if GuidePlus+ material falls under the must-carry rules.
Cable operators are required to retransmit program-related material in the VBI, the FCC said. The question was whether material in the VBI is program-related. The FCC fell back on a case between WGN Continental Broadcasting Co. and United Video Inc. for guidelines to determine the issue.
According to the FCC, for the VBI information to fall under the program-related category, it must be intended to be seen by the same viewers watching the main program; it must be available during the same interval of time as the main program; and it has to be an integral part of the main program. Gemstar's VBI material did not fit those categories, the FCC ruled.
"The Order finds that very little of Gemstar's VBI material is uniquely related to the main program of the broadcast station carrying it, but instead consists of information regarding programming on other channels, as well as advertisements and other promotions that do not relate to any program," the FCC says in its ruling. It also noted that the decision was limited to the "distinct question" regarding the technology and video channels used to deliver Gemstar's EPG data.
The ruling could be welcome news to vendors that make VBI stripping equipment. Electronic System Products, a division of Arris Group Inc., makes such equipment, including the TollGate 100a and TG210, for cable operators, but has been waiting for the smoke to clear on the TWC-Gemstar case. ESP's TG210 can strip out as many as 40 channels of data, including line 21, but doesn't touch the portion tagged for closed captioning.
One potential benefit of VBI blanking is revenue-driven. In theory, an operator could charge networks for any non- programming related information that's passed through to consumers.