I read today that the US Supreme Court agreed to take the case of ABC vs Aereo.
A long time ago, television consisted of a handful of stations that broadcasted free content which households received via "bunny ear" antennas. Except for PBS, all these stations supported themselves by running commercials. Since there weren't many stations, they had a lot more viewers than today so this business model worked. (PBS didn't run commercials and instead held fundraising drives on the air every X months.) Then cable came along and the number of stations grew. Cable pays the broadcast networks retransmission fees for the right to include their content in the cable content. Which struck me as a bit odd. At first I thought they were paying for the cost in the broadcaster sharing the signal. But this would make sense as a flat fee and not $1 per subscriber.
Fast forwarding to today. Aereo "took advantage" of the antenna provision and hosts tiny antennas rather than one on your property and streams the content to you. The case is whether this is legal or if it is retransmission. The cable companies are saying they will use the same technology if it is deemed legal. Some of the broadcast networks are threatening to go cable only. Which seems silly because part of the day is local broadcasting. And the fact that their prime time benefits from a vast increase in free PR and accessibility by being an over the air station. There's a new comedy on ABC vs ABC Family. Which gets covered in the newspaper?
I have never used Aereo and have no need for it given I get good reception from where I live. I have cable and a bunny ears antenna as a backup - which I used during CBS' dispute with Time Warner last year. My mother has pure bunny ears. She hardly watches any TV so no use for cable.
I do see both sides of this. I do think Aereo is retransmitting since they are receiving the signal on your behalf and propagating it. At the same time, I see how it could be considered "outsourcing" your antenna.
I wonder whether it is time to end the re-transmission fee scheme completely. I also wonder if two of the broadcast networks would like to give up their slots, whether they could be made available to someone else. I bet some cable stations would like to expand their advertising reach by broadcasting over the air.
Well, I have to say that I read that three times and still didn't understand it. Is this Aereo thing something I could subscribe to and they would run a wire into my house from somewhere?
(People in my area haven't used television antennas for about 30 years now, except for the people who point their antennas at satellites to get more Chinese programming than what's on cable, so perhaps that's why I'm not understanding the issues.)
author & internet detective
Paul Clapham wrote:Well, I have to say that I read that three times and still didn't understand it. Is this Aereo thing something I could subscribe to and they would run a wire into my house from somewhere?
The key idea is that Aereo has a zillion small antennas to pick up the signal, and then they send the signal out over the Internet. They have one antenna for each customer. This skirts the cable-tv rules on retransmission. Logically, there is one antenna for me, another for Jeanne and still another for Paul. They just use the Internet as a long wire.
This is a critical case for the existing TV network and cable industry. They are hanging on to a very profitable business model that has been technically obsolete for more than a decades. Just like newspapers, the incumbent players have too much money rolling it to enable them to try a new model, yet they have to change.
That, and I'd find their service a lot more compelling if the "DVR" automatically included anything shown within the past <some-to-be-determined-time-period>. There's little advantage over a physical DVR in the house if you have remember ahead of time to record The Blacklist and are unable to watch it simply because you forgot to set your "DVR in the cloud" ahead of time.
Aereo started a website - protectmyantenna.org. It's interesting to see who filed "Friend of the court" briefs for the case. (Scroll down to "Amicus Briefs"). Also interesting is that Aereo didn't lose the appeal in New York. They asked to go to the Supreme Court regardless to put this issue to rest once and for all.
The implications of this case go way beyond antennas. I do have a bunny ear antenna as backup to the cable system. I last used it in August during the Time Warner/CBS blackout. Incidentally wrote this at the time on my blog post about the experience:
And this is they key. If Aereo wins, it opens the door to a number of new technologies including cloud TV. If they lose, it makes the network broadcasters retransmission fee demands stronger for future negotiations with the cable company. (You can see where I stand on this issue.)
I still believe that these problems are caused by a bad setup. The contract of free/network tv is broken. I think both Aereo and the networks are exploiting that. And I think they are both wrong. I think Aereo should be allowed to rebroadcast and there should be no retransmission fees for cable. If the network stations don't like that, they are welcome to give up their over the air slot AND channel number. They can become paid tv only. I bet other stations would love to have channel numbers 2, 4, 5, 7 and 11. (The over the air channel numbers where I live.)
The meaning will be argued forever until it gets back to the Supremes. For me, the key quote from the above link is:
However, the Court went to some lengths to show that it was issuing only a narrow ruling. It said it was dealing, at this point, only with Aereo’s system so far as it enabled its viewers to view copyrighted TV programs “live,” or after only a brief delay. Justice Breyer stressed that the decision said nothing about downloading a TV program in order to recover it and keep it on hand for somewhat later viewing.
author & internet detective
I was going to search for this thread to post in it. Handy it was right on top!
I read the result in the NY TImes article. I had a similar key quote to the one Pat picked:
In oral arguments in the case in April, the justices had expressed concern that a ruling against Aereo would stifle technological innovation. Justice Breyer took pains on Wednesday to say the decision was limited to Aereo’s service. “We believe that resolution of questions about cloud computing, remote storage DVRs and other novel matters not now before us should await a case in which they are clearly presented.”
Justice Antonin Scalia said the service had identified a loophole in the law. “It is not the role of this court to identify and plug loopholes,” he wrote.
Aereo's response is burried in the middle of their home page and is a link to their blog.. if you didn't read carefully, they are selling the same thing for $8/month. It'll be interesting if they go to the broadcasters to negotiate retransmission fees next.