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January 14, 2013

Netflix Inc., the largest U.S. mail- order movie-rental service, got special treatment from the U.S. Postal Service, which improperly discriminated against other mail-order companies, a federal appeals court ruled.

In a challenge filed by GameFly Inc., the video-game rent- by-mail service, a three-judge panel in Washington today ordered the Postal Regulatory Commission to cure "all discrimination" against the company or explain why treating GameFly different from Netflix is reasonable. The ruling may lead to changes in the way Netflix movies are handled by the postal service. GameFly sued the postal commission in May 2011, challenging its response to allegations that the post office was giving Netflix special treatment by manually sorting its DVDs free of charge. Without similar handling, Los Angeles-based GameFly could be subject to an "epidemic" of broken discs, the appeals court said today.

"The Postal Service has saved Netflix - apparently its biggest DVD mailer customer - from this crippling otherwise industrywide problem by diverting Netflix mail from the automated letter stream, shifting it to specially designated trays and containers, hand culling it and hand processing it," U.S. Circuit Judge David Sentelle wrote. "Rather obviously, this is not without cost to the Postal Service." Jonathan Friedman, a spokesman for Los Gatos, California- based Netflix, declined to comment on the ruling. The U.S. Postal Service is analyzing the decision and its implications, David Partenheimer, a spokesman for the service, said in an e-mail. "The Postal Service believes that the different treatment that we provided to our customers was fully justified and reasonable, and consistent with the law," he said. Bloomberg


John Landgraf runs the FX network, home of some of basic cable's most popular, and most violent, programming. But Landgraf also is a father to three sons, the youngest of whom is 9. When first-graders were massacred in a school in Newtown, Conn., in December, Landgraf was "upset and so horrified and sad and angry," and he was curious. He pondered, as many others did, whether violent content in television, movies and video games should take any blame for mass murders like those in Newtown; Aurora, Colo.; and elsewhere. "I think anything and everything that bears any responsibility for what we do in the media, should be fair game and should be looked at," Landgraf told TV critics meeting in Pasadena with broadcast and cable networks. But neither he nor other programmers would draw a direct line of cause and effect.

After the Newtown murders, some advocacy groups (including the National Rifle Association) laid blame on media. In a poll conducted by the Hollywood Reporter and Penn Schoen Berland, 44% of parents said the shootings made them more aware of how much violence their children are consuming in media, and 35% said Congress or the president should pressure Hollywood to cut back on violent content. With the Newtown tragedy still so fresh, programmers quizzed by members of the Television Critics Association said they were sensitive to concerns about violent content. But television is a business, they repeated, and some of the most violent programs -- including FX's "Sons of Anarchy," about a murderous, drug-dealing biker gang, and "American Horror Story," in which atrocities are committed in a mental asylum -- are among the most popular. "We're in the culture business," said Kevin Reilly, chief programmer for Fox, which will launch the graphically bloody serial killer drama "The Following" later this month. "It comes with responsibility."

Reilly said he didn't believe a direct linkage existed between violence on TV and a troubled young man's murder spree. "But we take everything we do, everything we put on the air, with the utmost responsibility," he said. "I have a lot of sleepless nights. Not only am I trying to get hits, but we're trying ... to find that line." The subject is much more complicated than simply saying we should clean up TV (or movies or games), Reilly said. Fox, and any TV network, is "part of a much larger tapestry and a very complex media landscape where there is access 24 hours a day at your fingertips on the Web and on cable news, as well as all of the other entertainment and media choices, from gaming to television. ... We have a responsibility and we have an FCC license and we take that as seriously as we absolutely can." St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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