By Sarah Falson

SYDNEY: James Packer’s Nine Network today took fledgling software company, IceTV, to court in what is believed to be an attempt to stop PVR (personal video recorder) users cutting-out television advertisements.

IceTV offers an EPG (electronic program guide) service to subscribers, allowing them to record free-to-air television shows onto their computer, mobile phone or PVR.

They can also record two shows at once if they have access to twin television tuners, and automatically record their favourite programs, pause and replay live television broadcasts (called ‘time-shifting’), and instantly skip through advertisements.

The service costs subscribers $3 per week, and has been around for 12 months. 

Nine has stated that it believes IceTV has breached its copyright by creating a program guide that resembles Nine’s. However, it has been widely speculated that the television network’s real gripe is that IceTV allows users to dodge television advertisements that are a major revenue-raiser for Nine.

Channel Seven earlier this year voiced a similar concern, but charges were dropped when IceTV allowed Seven to view the back-end of their program compilations which it claims are independently-sourced.

IceTV’s directors, who are in the Federal Court today, were unavailable for comment. However, did manage to speak to Jai Kemp, Director of Topfield Australia, who has a close working relationship with IceTV.

Since its inception, Topfield Australia has been bundling IceTV subscriptions with its set-top box and PVR sales, offering consumers the chance to experience the maximum benefits offered by its machines.

When asked if Topfield will continue to deal with IceTV, Kemp replied: “we sure will.” 

“I don’t think [what they are doing] is wrong. They write all the [programming] material themselves: I think their lawyers are quite confident that they are in the right.

“Morally, I support IceTV. I think that Channel Nine is quite close-minded in the whole thing. They’re worried about their revenue, but one day they’re going to have to step back and accept it.

“People have been time-shifting for years – PVRs aren’t [exacerbating] that, they’re only doing what VCRs have been doing for years.”

Kemp believes that Nine could do better to work alongside EPG suppliers, as they offer more opportunities for advertising dollars.

“This is where the future is going with PVRs,” Kemp said. “I think they’ll be more media-centre oriented, like TiVO. With TiVO, people can press a button to view commercials, say, if they want to buy a car. This is where advertising is going.”

IceTV has recently released a program called PIMP, which allows users to remotely program their at-home PVR using their mobile phone.

The Nine Network might soon have a bigger fish to fry, however, if Google launches its own EPG, as has been rumoured.

UK website The Business reported in May that Google Chief executive Eric Schmidt said: “At the most people currently have access to only around 500 television channels. They should have access to everything – that is where we are heading.

“You have to look at what an electronic program guide is. It is just a search engine and that is what Google does best.”