Netflix, Hulu Beat California City That Sued to Tax Streaming Services

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Netflix, Hulu Beat California City That Sued to Tax Streaming Services
Photo courtesy of Hulu

Netflix and Hulu have won another court battle against a local government trying to force the streaming giants to pay taxes typically imposed on cable TV companies.

A Los Angeles County judge ruled Wednesday that the city of Lancaster doesn’t have the right to sue the streaming services to charge so-called franchise fees, which legacy TV providers have long paid municipalities for the right to dig up streets to lay their cable wires, according to the Hollywood Reporter. L.A. County Superior Court Judge Yvette M. Palazuelos noted that even if Lancaster had the right to bring the case, Netflix and Hulu would be exempt from the fees as they don’t own or operate infrastructure on public property.

The ruling is the latest victory for streaming services facing a flurry of similar lawsuits across the country. Municipalities have argued that companies like Netflix and Hulu should pay franchise fees, which are usually up to 5% of the gross revenue generated from providing video service in a town or city. As more consumers cut the cord on traditional cable TV and opt for streaming instead, local governments are seeing less franchise fee revenue enter their coffers.

Local governments bringing legal complaints against streamers have sought both back payments and fees going forward, according to law firm Duane Morris, which has identified cases in at least 14 states and described the suits as a “billion-dollar battle.”

In addition to the Lancaster case, Netflix and Hulu have already won legal arguments in Arkansas, Nevada and Texas, according to the Associated Press. But the streaming services have lost one ruling at the dismissal stage in Missouri, THR reported. The Ohio Supreme Court considered a similar case this week, while the Tennessee Supreme Court is set to hear arguments next month.

Lawyers for Lancaster, located in northern Los Angeles County, argued in October that Netflix and Hulu were subject to the California law requiring “video service providers” to pay the fees because they used third-party broadband wires to provide similar, if not identical, video programming to cable companies

In response, Netflix noted that it does not own or operate infrastructure in public rights-of-way and argued that it does not even provide “video programming” under the state’s definition, since its services “are not live, linear, channelized, scheduled or programmed,” according to a January court filing.

The two sides have also squabbled over whether California towns like Lancaster have the right to sue for franchise fees in the first place. On Wednesday, Judge Palazuelos said they did not—adding that if Lancaster was allowed to sue Netflix and Hulu, it could open the door for the city to impose fees on a growing list of streaming services including Disney Plus, HBO Max and Peacock.

“Such an interpretation would result in a financial windfall for local entities that the Legislature did not intend,” she ruled.

In a statement to dot.LA, Lancaster assistant city manager Trolis Niebla said the city “has no comment on the ruling and has not determined next steps.” Representatives for Netflix and Hulu did not respond to requests for comment.

Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.


March Capital Raises $650 Million Fund to Invest in AI Startups

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

March Capital Raises $650 Million Fund to Invest in AI Startups
March Capital founder Jamie Montgomery. Illustration by Dilara Mundy.

Santa Monica-based venture outfit March Capital announced Feb. 3 that it raised its largest fund to date, a $650 million investment vehicle that will be used to back up to 15 startups focused on delivering new uses of artificial intelligence.

Read moreShow less

The Three Best Ways to Work With Your Startup Board

Spencer Rascoff

Spencer Rascoff serves as executive chairman of dot.LA. He is an entrepreneur and company leader who co-founded Zillow, Hotwire, dot.LA, Pacaso and Supernova, and who served as Zillow's CEO for a decade. During Spencer's time as CEO, Zillow won dozens of "best places to work" awards as it grew to over 4,500 employees, $3 billion in revenue, and $10 billion in market capitalization. Prior to Zillow, Spencer co-founded and was VP Corporate Development of Hotwire, which was sold to Expedia for $685 million in 2003. Through his startup studio and venture capital firm, 75 & Sunny, Spencer is an active angel investor in over 100 companies and is incubating several more.

The Three Best Ways to Work With Your Startup Board

When launching and running a startup, your board of directors is one of your most valuable assets. If you already understand why you need a board and how to structure your board, it may be tempting to think you can cross that item off the list. But building a board is just the beginning. Now you’ve got to get down to business—together.

Read moreShow less

This Week in ‘Raises’: Saviynt Lands $205M, Pagos Secures $34M

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

This Week in ‘Raises’: Saviynt Lands $205M, Pagos Secures $34M
This Week in ‘Raises’:

While it was a slow week of funding in Los Angeles, security vendor Saviynt managed to score $205 million that will be used to meet the company’s growing demand for its converged identity platform and accelerate innovation.

Read moreShow less