12:10pm PT by Eriq Gardner
Judge Overturns $6.3 Million Jury Verdict in Cable TV Antitrust Case
Cable TV companies got relieving news on Thursday when a federal judge in Oklahoma ruled that there wasn't enough evidence to support a $6.31 million verdict against Cox Communications for tying the lease of cable boxes to access to premium programming.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Robin Cauthron comes a couple weeks after an eight-day trial that resulted in what would have amounted to a breakthrough victory by consumers frustrated by the high cost of renting cable boxes.
As one of several class-action lawsuits pending against cable TV operators, this action was the first to get to trial and presented the case that Cox had helped foreclose competition in the cable box market. Specifically, the plaintiffs argued that Cox misrepresented the capabilities of nonproprietary boxes and raised barriers to companies like TiVo that wished to offer third-party set-top boxes.
But Cauthron in her order today finds a lack of support for the primary allegation.
"While the Court agrees with Plaintiff that Cox required a customer to rent a set-top box in order to obtain premium cable, there simply is no evidence from which a reasonable jury could determine that that arrangement led to a foreclosure of commerce," she writes.
Cauthron notes that the jury heard no word that manufacturers refused to enter the market because of Cox's actions. As for an argument that TiVo wanted to offer its box in the Oklahoma market but for an indemnification issue allegedly manipulated by Cox, the judge rejects it as speculation.
Additionally, in coming to a judgment as a matter of law, Cauthron comes to another conclusion that could prove fatal to other multimillion-dollar claims still pending. She writes that plaintiffs have also "failed to demonstrate that Cox's customers were harmed because of the alleged tie."
The ruling seems likely to be appealed.