iCraveTV.com's recent legal troubles have been an unexpected brand builder for the embattled Canadian Webcaster. In the past month, 300,000 people registered their names and e-mail addresses at the little-known site.
“Our marketing budget was paid out to the lawyers,” said Bill Graig, president of iCraveTV.com, Toronto. “Before this legal action we had no brand recognition, and now our name is being dropped everywhere. We have definitely gained legitimacy through this lawsuit.”
A coalition led by the Motion Picture Association of America — which included 10 major Hollywood studios, ABC, NBC, CBS, the NFL and the NBA — sued iCraveTV.com earlier this year in Federal Court in Pittsburgh. They charged iCraveTV.com with illegally intercepting and then rebroadcasting programs on the Net that had been lifted from 17 over-the-air affiliates in Buffalo, NY, and Toronto.
The site began Webcasting in November, claiming it was within the law by notifying U.S. visitors that they could not view the broadcasts. The coalition claimed iCraveTV.com's honor system was not enough to protect copyrighted programming.
In the two months since the lawsuit was filed, iCraveTV.com's logo has been splashed over countless television stations, Web sites, newspapers and magazines. What's more, the commerce committee of the U.S. House of Representatives recently held a day of hearings titled, “Telecommunications Trade & Consumer Protection Hearing. Video on the Internet: iCraveTV.com and Other Recent Developments in Webcasting.”
iCraveTV.com agreed on Feb. 28 to stop Webcasting over-the-air signals without permission. Under the settlement, iCraveTV.com was not forced to pay legal fees to plaintiffs or penalties associate with copyright infringement. Though Graig stuck to his claim that iCraveTV.com's broadcasts were legal in Canada after a similar lawsuit was filed there, he agreed to let the U.S. ruling dictate his actions and resolved to discontinue unauthorized re-broadcasts of on-air signals from the site.
Having reportedly paid less than $500,000 in legal fees, iCraveTV.com plans to leverage the names it collected during the flap to unveil a new business model. Previously, iCraveTV.com streamed over-the-air signals free, commercials and all. The Webcasts were bracketed with banner ads sold by the company. Graig said the new model will feature advertiser-supported free channels but will not have any advertising for the subscription channels.
“We have now got a terrific brand name, and we want to build on it,” said Graig. “We will relaunch with a brand name and come back with a vengeance on a subscription basis. We still believe we have found a new and viable market. This situation has taught us that we have found a product and a commodity that people want.”
Graig said the site will resume Webcasting this summer with cable feeds to and from the U.S. and Canada.
Before the lawsuits, the site had spent a total of $4,000 on print and viral marketing. This included one full-page ad in a Canadian trade magazine and a campaign conducted by college students, who were paid to mention the site during specific online chat sessions. The results were a sprinkling of site visits.
To begin Webcasting again, the company is negotiating with cable operators in the United States and Canada to rebroadcast their content on a free and subscription basis. iCraveTV.com has developed new software called iWall that it claims will allow it to avoid legal battles by barring visitors from viewing programs that are illegal to rebroadcast in their respective countries.
Graig said that iCraveTV.com still hopes to broadcast on-air signals someday, but he isn't banking on it anytime soon.
“Let some other site fight the battle to broadcast on-air signals in Canada,” said Graig. “We've come up with a whole new model for the site where we will use a subscription base with free teasers supported by advertising.”