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How Netflix Is Tormenting Fox

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Forget the content wars. The distribution wars are just as ugly, and they could get uglier soon.

According to Bloomberg, News Corp.'s (NASDAQ: FOX  ) Fox Broadcasting is suing to block DISH Network (NASDAQ: DISH  ) from activating features in its new "Hopper" set-top box that allows viewers to watch live and recorded shows on mobile devices.

Fox contends that DISH's redistribution agreement doesn't amount to a license for streaming or copying its content for personal use. Earlier, the two clashed over DISH's "AutoHop" feature, which allows users to automatically skip ads in recorded shows. A San Francisco court has yet to rule on that issue, Bloomberg reports.

Regardless of who wins, you can be sure Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX  ) caused the brawl. Not explicitly, per se. But the company's pervasive streaming network has changed viewing habits to the point where, in a recent survey, 85% of those polled told Nielsen they use their tablet while watching TV.

For these and many more consumers, device-independent TV is getting more real by the day. Have a smartphone? Sure, you can watch House of Cards. Have a tablet and an HBO subscription? Yes, you can dig into Deadwood during spring break.

As with everything in Hollywood, money is at the center of this debate, too. Fox wants to get paid every time its content is broadcast, which means, if I'm reading its argument correctly, viewers who want to stream live TV to a tablet should have to pay separately for that privilege.

The problem with this view is that time is irrelevant for televised events that aren't sports, and viewers have been recording TV for rebroadcast ever since the invention of the VHS tape. Fox isn't just fighting DISH -- it's fighting an irrevocable shift in consumer habits from which DISH, rightly or wrongly, is just looking to profit.

But that's also just my take, and you may have a different view. Please share your thoughts in the comments box below. And remember: if you're in the market for more stock ideas, The Motley Fool's chief investment officer recently named his top pick for the year ahead. Find out what he's eyeing in our brand-new free report: "The Motley Fool's Top Stock for 2013." Immediate access is just a click away, so act now.

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