Why The Supreme Court Just Killed Aereo: An Explainer

Aereo is a pretty simple concept: You rent a DVR and an antenna from a website, and can watch broadcast TV over the Internet. And broadcast networks loathe it. They loathed it so much they went to the Supreme Court to shut Aereo down… and they just got their wish.

For the record, your cloud-based DVR through your cable company is probably safe: They pay to stream video. But in a surprising decision, the Supreme Court has ruled that what Aereo does is a public performance under the law. That means they’re in violation of the Copyright Act of 1976, and need to pay retransmission fees for the content they stream.

In other words, Aereo is probably out of business. Anybody who’s used Aereo in the markets it’s operating in have racked up the company a huge pile of retransmission fees it probably can’t pay. And the networks hate it so much, they’re more likely to want to shut it down completely than actually try to use modern technology to cater to what people actually want.

That’s the most frustrating thing about all this. Aereo is fundamentally useful and gets people to watch network television in ways and in places they normally wouldn’t, which is theoretically what the networks want. Instead they seem furious that anybody would use technology to watch TV at anything other than the convenience of the broadcaster.

It’s an attitude reflected in their apps. The apps developed by the networks are uniformly terrible and predicated on having a cable subscription to watch what is, literally, given away for free. When a basic cable channel is getting streaming right while broadcast networks flounder, there’s a problem here.

It’s too much to ask that broadcast networks will figure this out, or even bother creating a livestreaming app that actually makes sense. To the networks, for a long time, we’ve been livestock to be sold to advertisers, and they’re approaching this with the attitude of the dumb cows getting out of the barn rather than a fundamental shift in how television is watched that isn’t going away. Of course, considering the rapid rise of free open-source DVR software and the fact that younger consumers are increasingly either cord-cutters or cord-nevers, that raises a pretty important question: How long can they pretend it’s still the twentieth century?