Editor's Note: This article has been updated to reflect that the Judge only threw out part of the lawsuit, rather than the entire case.
A federal judge has trimmed a claim from the $225 million antitrust suit filed last year by local ad broker Viamedia against Comcast, alleging that the cable giant has illegally monopolized “spot” sales in Detroit and Chicago. However, Viamedia claims the case's central components remain intact and the matter is moving forward.
According to court papers obtained by the Cook County Record, U.S. District Judge Amy J. St. Eve determined that Comcast’s business practices represented “vertical integration” and were not by nature “anticompetitive.”
“Viamedia has not adequately alleged that Comcast’s elimination of a middleman in the regional spot cable advertising business was irrational but for its anticompetitive effect,” she wrote, according to the paper. The Record removed its story after it became clear that part of the lawsuit was still under consideration.
The paper implied that Judge St. Eve dismissed the entire lawsuit. However, several hours after this story was originally posted, representatives for Viamedia told FierceCable that some of the New York company's claims are indeed moving forward.
"As recognized in the court's November 4, 2016 decision, which was unchanged by the court’s February 22nd decision, Viamedia’s antitrust claims for tying and exclusive dealing are moving ahead because Viamedia has plausibly alleged that Comcast is violating federal and state antitrust and tort laws by forcing competing satellite and cable TV providers to deal directly with Comcast if they want to advertise in regional markets," Viamedia said in a statement. "Viamedia seeks damages of not less than $75 million, which is subject to trebling under the antitrust statute. Comcast thus faces potential liability in the hundreds of millions of dollars."
Comcast has yet to respond to inquiries placed by FierceCable this morning.
For its part, Viamedia has responded to the ruling with a victorious posture.
"We are pleased the court issued an accelerated schedule to move our antitrust case forward,” said Mark Lieberman, Viamedia president and CEO. “We also understand the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating Comcast's control and behavior in the spot cable advertising market. Both of these should provide the marketplace protection our industry needs.”
Viamedia filed suit against Comcast last May in the Northern District of Illinois federal court, accusing Comcast’s local ad sales unit, Spotlight, of shutting out rivals from interconnects it controls.
Viamedia claims Comcast excluded its clients, Wide Open West (WOW) and RCN, from accessing local ad sales “interconnects” in Chicago and Detroit. In order to obtain access to these interconnects, these MSOs had to agree to let Comcast Spotlight broker their spot ad sales.
In its suit, Viamedia said 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.”
In November 2015, the Justice Department launched an investigation against Comcast, looking at very much the same allegations. The DOJ hasn't revealed where that investigation stands. The Justice Department estimated the size of cable’s local ad sales business to be worth more than $5 billion at that time.