Aereo, a company that lets you stream live network TV (NBC, ABC, Fox, PBS, etc.) to your computer, smartphone or tablet, is gearing up for a big Supreme Court battle this spring with those networks that could dismantle the startup.
The networks claim Aereo violates copyright by allowing customers to record TV shows in a virtual DVR that lets you stream shows later to your device. Aereo charges $US8 per month to use the service and it’s available in a handful of U.S. cities.
Aereo argues that since it provides each customer with his or her own antenna and uses the Internet as the “wire” that connects the antenna to customers’ devices, it’s no different than the traditional method of connecting your TV to one of those old-fashioned antennas.
In the lead up to the Supreme Court case, executives at networks have threatened to stop broadcasting for free over the air if Aereo wins. That means you’d either have to access those networks through a cable subscription or over the Internet.
But in an interview with Business Insider at the South By Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, Texas, Aereo’s CEO Chet Kanojia dismissed those threats as impractical.
“They make the same threat every time,” Kanojia said. “Are they really going to be permitted to disenfranchise people who can’t afford cable?”
In the cable and satellite TV era, many probably don’t realise you can get a lot of TV for free. If you have an antenna, you can pull in signals from networks like NBC, CBS and ABC without paying the cable company. That means you get content like NFL games, popular sitcoms like “How I Met Your Mother,” and the evening news. If the networks pull their free over-the-air offerings, people who can’t afford cable will be missing a lot of stuff.
If the networks make good on their threats, Kanojia says they will lose their FCC licenses and have to give up valuable spectrum. Not to mention, it will put local affiliates in danger and make it tougher for people who can’t to get local news and other programming.
“The biggest implication is that if you think about it, local programming is so important in this country,” Kanojia said. “It requires the presence of a natural network. All those affiliates are in a world of hurt.”
And then it happened again. Three days after our chat with Kanojia, CBS CEO Les Moonves threatened to take the network off the air and distribute it over the Internet instead if Aereo was allowed to operate.
Moonves also intimated that CBS and other networks don’t get any advertising credit from shows streamed over Aereo.
“If the government wants to give them permission to steal our signal, then we will come up with some other way to get them our content and still get paid for it,” he said, according to Reuters.
But there’s a wrinkle in that argument, as Nielsen now counts ratings on Internet TV services like Aereo, the New York Times reported last year.
In short, it seems like an absurd, empty threat.