Aereo, if you’re unfamiliar, is a start-up that basically charges you a monthly fee to give you a little antenna and a cloud-based DVR for the purposes of capturing broadcast television. Any TV the antenna captures is then streamed live to the devices of your choice, including a newly tweaked Roku app that no longer needs an Apple product to work.
It’s a neat idea, although likely not for everybody, and it could lend itself to some interesting experiments as it expands. That is, if the broadcast networks don’t stomp it first.
The major networks, being the great fans of innovation that they are, are suing to stop Aereo for two reasons. One, they argue that their signals are being retransmitted without their permission, because it’s not like they’re giving this stuff out for free or anything, and two, Aereo doesn’t pay them retransmission fees, which are increasingly a major source of revenue. Aereo gets around this by following the letter of the law: One big antenna would be a public performance. Thousands of little ones, which Aereo uses, is legally not.
Left unsaid in these statements is the fact that Aereo would also majorly enable cord-cutting by stripping away the need for an antenna. As a cord-cutter, I actually have an antenna hooked up to my TV, and it’s a valuable reminder that as annoying as cable is, over the air signals are not terribly reliable.
There’s also the geographical location problem: If Aereo decides to let you rent antennas in different areas, that would put a fairly serious crimp in, for example, football games being blacked out in your area. If all you need to watch the game you want is eight bucks and a $60 set-top box, why would you buy the NFL’s game packages?
Will the networks win their lawsuits? Probably not. The root of the problem is they don’t really have a good legal explanation for why, precisely, renting an antenna and a virtual TiVo from a website is this egregious violation of any sort of contract when most people are doing the same thing with an antenna and DVR they can pick up in a store, or hook up an HDTV antenna to their laptop. Aereo may not exist without their content, but by the same token, it’s not like this content is restricted by contracts. All they’re doing is grabbing publicly available signal.
Nonetheless, it’ll be an interesting fight… and if Aereo wins, bad, bad news for cable.