April 25, 2014

Battle Lines Drawn In Aereo Case

Enid Burns for - Your Universe Online

This month the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of the broadcasters vs. over-the-air subscription service Aereo, which uses a mini-antenna to “grab” the broadcast signal and then stream to PCs and mobile devices. The case could be a game changer as media companies, including Fox and CBS, have threatened to pull their signals off the air should Aereo win.

While the case won’t be decided until June, it has gotten a lot of attention this week and various groups and companies are lining up on this issue. Not surprisingly the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) is backing the broadcast industry in this high profile case.

“NAB appreciates the opportunity for broadcasters to argue the merits of the case against Aereo before the Supreme Court,” said NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith in a statement. “We believe the preservation of copyright laws is at the heart of the case and are optimistic the rights of content producers will be upheld. We look forward to the Court’s final decision.”

However, other groups have thrown their support behind Aereo.

“Consumers will benefit if Aereo wins,” said Parents Television Council President Tim Winter according to the New York Times. “Broadcasters are paid by cable companies to carry their networks as part of a programming bundle, and cable companies respond by passing those costs onto consumers, who then see higher cable bills. By giving consumers greater control over what they choose to pay for, Aereo could help break up this bundled-channel model that is squeezing consumers’ wallets and forcing unwanted programming onto parents and families.”

This is a case that is now in the highest court in the United States, but is also apparently being watched closely around the world.

“In my opinion the Broadcasters will win but I believe Aereo is a scalable model in Europe , where people have to pay taxes to their National Public broadcaster,” Cristinel Corobana of the video on demand service Canal Digital in Norway told redOrbit.

Aereo has been silent on its own blog about the proceedings in front of the Supreme Court. It's latest entry was posted on Wednesday, offering advice on how to record live content to view later, the way many viewers do with their DVR.

New York Times reporter Farhad Manjoo suggests that a victory for Aero would be good for the cloud industry. However, he counters that the Aero service is not where it should be for consumers, suggesting that consumers need something better. Manjoo argues that if a consumer can set up an antenna and record a TV show, then shouldn’t a service be able to do the same?

"It’s a clever argument, one that highlights the extreme lengths that tech companies go to in order to avoid copyright restrictions. The argument is designed to show off the similarities between Aereo and more traditional cloud services like Dropbox — services that the Supreme Court would have to strive mightily to separate out of any ruling against Aereo," wrote Manjoo.

Broadcasters might not be looking to the cloud when it looks for a decision in this case. Aero charges a fee to consumers for streaming content of broadcast channels, which are essentially available for free (though networks charge cable operators to carry the channels and the fees are often passed down to the consumer). Some networks have threatened to move their content from the broadcast channels, in some cases running their shows on cable channels owned by the same company. If Aereo wins, the TV landscape could change dramatically.