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Viamedia, Inc. v. Comcast Corp.

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

February 22, 2017

VIAMEDIA, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
COMCAST CORPORATION and COMCAST SPOTLIGHT, LP, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          AMY J. ST. EVE, District Court Judge

         Defendants Comcast Corporation (“Comcast”) and its wholly owned subsidiary Comcast Spotlight, LP (“Comcast Spotlight”), [1] (R. 40, Am. Compl., ¶ 1), have moved, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), to dismiss with prejudice Counts I-V of Plaintiff Viamedia, Inc.'s (“Viamedia”) amended complaint, “to the extent the monopolization claims asserted are based on alleged refusal to deal.” (R. 45.) For the following reasons, the Court grants Defendants' motion.

         BACKGROUND[2]

         In the 1990s, competing cable service providers-called, according to industry terminology, “multichannel video program distributors” (“MVPDs”)-developed Interconnects, cable industry cooperatives that facilitate the sale of spot cable advertising across particular Designated Media Markets (“DMAs”). (R. 40, Am. Compl., ¶¶ 23, 34-36.) Specifically, an “Interconnect functions as the central marketplace around which all regional Spot Cable Advertising sales in [a] DMA are transacted.” (Id. at ¶ 37.) Regional spot cable advertising sales are one of the three ways in which MVPDs sell spot cable advertising time. (Id. at ¶ 34.)

         Initially, “Interconnects were open to all MVPDs and their representatives, and MVPDs were encouraged to participate in order to maximize the numbers of households advertisers could reach in that DMA.” (Id. at ¶ 38.) Following the formation of the Chicago and Detroit Interconnects, Comcast acquired competing MVPDs in the Chicago and Detroit DMAs, which allowed Comcast to gain “majority interest in” and “assume unilateral control of regional advertising through” the Interconnects in the two DMAs. (Id. at ¶ 102.)

         Between 2002 and 2012, Viamedia, a spot cable advertising representation company, participated in the Interconnects for Chicago and Detroit “on behalf of two of its then most significant MVPD clients, ” Wide Open West (“WOW”) and RCN Corporation (“RCN”). (Id. at ¶ 103.) During this period, “Viamedia paid over $23 million to Comcast in its role as Interconnect manager to participate in the Chicago and Detroit Interconnects.” (Id. at ¶ 157).

         Viamedia's participation in the Chicago and Detroit Interconnects ended, however, in June of 2012. (Id. at ¶ 110.) “Comcast informed WOW and RCN that if they wished to regain access to the Interconnects, they would be required to cease using Viamedia as their Spot Cable Advertising Representative and would instead be required to retain Comcast Spotlight.” (Id. at ¶ 113.)

         Viamedia alleges that, as an Interconnect manager, Comcast has an incentive to maximize participation in the Interconnect by eligible MVPDs because Comcast collects fees from Interconnect participants and “[t]he economic value of each Interconnect is derived from its ability to provide a single point of access for advertisers to purchase Spot Cable Avails that are capable of reaching all subscribers within a DMA.” (Id. at ¶ 154-55, 157 (emphasis in original).) According to Viamedia, when Comcast refused to deal with Viamedia, it prevented WOW and RCN from participating in regional ad sales through the Interconnects. (Id. at ¶¶ 159-60.) This refusal allegedly “reduced significantly the number of cable subscribers covered by the [Chicago and Detroit] Interconnect[s].” (Id.) Additionally, it reduced the fees Comcast would have collected if WOW and RCN had continued to participate in the Interconnects. (Id.) Accordingly, Viamedia claims that Comcast's exclusion of Viamedia was “irrational and contrary to” Comcast's economic incentives. (Id. at ¶ 158-60.) Additionally, Viamedia alleges that dealing with Viamedia “would have entailed no cost to Comcast as the Interconnect manager, would have provided the Interconnect and Comcast . . . with immediate benefits, and would have served the interests of the Interconnect customers, namely the regional advertisers, to reach all subscribers in the market.” (Id. at ¶ 158.)[3]

         Comcast continued to exclude WOW and RCN from the Chicago and Detroit Interconnects until they retained Comcast Spotlight as their spot cable advertising representative. (Id. at ¶¶ 113, 124, 126.) Eventually, at least by January 1, 2016, WOW and RCN capitulated to Comcast's demands and retained Comcast Spotlight as their sole spot cable advertising representative in the Detroit and Chicago DMAs. (Id. at ¶¶ 126-31.) Viamedia also alleges that Comcast has used this coercive tactic in other DMAs. (See, e.g., id. at ¶¶ 132-35.)

         On May 26, 2016, Viamedia filed a six-count complaint against Defendants Comcast and Comcast Spotlight, asserting, among other things, that Defendants violated Section 2 of the Sherman Act through attempted monopolization and “unlawful monopolization in markets for spot cable advertising representation in DMAs where Comcast controls the Interconnect[].” (R. 1 at ¶¶ 164-82.) Specifically, Viamedia alleged that Defendants, “[b]y refusing to deal with Viamedia and MVPDs represented by Viamedia, by conditioning access to Interconnects upon an MVPD's agreement to deal with Comcast Spotlight, [and] by requiring that MVPDs deal exclusively with Comcast Spotlight as a Spot Cable Advertising Representative” and “by conditioning access to Interconnects upon an MVPD's agreement to deal with Comcast Spotlight, ” imposed upon RCN and WOW an invalid tying arrangement and engaged in impermissible exclusive dealing. (Id. at ¶¶ 168, 176.) In other words, Viamedia alleged that Defendants violated the Sherman Act through tying, exclusive dealing, and a refusal to deal. (R. 36, Mem. Op. & Order, 18.) Viamedia repeats those allegations in its amendment complaint. (R. 40 at ¶¶ 183, 191.)

         On July 22, 2016, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss, (R. 22), which the Court denied in part and granted in part, Viamedia, 2016 WL 6568074, at *17. Specifically, the Court dismissed Viamedia's refusal to deal claim without prejudice but denied Defendants' motion with respect to Viamedia's other claims. Id. The Court reasoned that “Viamedia has not alleged or explained how Defendants' refusal to deal with it-separate from Defendants' other conduct like conditioning MVPDs' access to Interconnects on accepting Comcast Spotlight's services even for advertising sales that do not involve an Interconnect-has no rational competitive purpose.” Id. at 16.

         Viamedia filed an Amended Complaint on November 21, 2016. (See R. 40.) Defendants subsequently filed a Motion to Dismiss the Refusal to Deal Claims as Restated in the Amended Complaint. (R. 45.)

         LEGAL STANDARD

         “A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) challenges the viability of a complaint by arguing that it fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” Camasta v. Jos. A. Bank Clothiers, Inc., 761 F.3d 732, 736 (7th Cir. 2014). Under Rule 8(a)(2), a complaint must include “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The short and plain statement under Rule 8(a)(2) must “give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). A plaintiff's “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. Put differently, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 ...


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