The next step in internet TV

As a follow-up to our ZeroTV discussion, I present to your information about Aereo, a website that will stream live television broadcasts that it picks up over the free airwaves.  Broadcasters and Cable moguls alike are trying to stop this venture in the courts, but so far to no avail.

I have questions for both sides of the controversy:  (1) How are broadcasters harmed if a website shows their over-the-air programming as opposed to that programming being shown on a television set? (2)  What is the advantage of watching live broadcasts on a computer screen as opposed to watching it over a television screen?  (3) Television stations are howling that their content is being “stolen.”  But how can it be stolen if the stations are giving it away for free? (4)  Why would viewers pay $10 per month for Aereo when they can get the same programming on a bigger screen for free? 

By  Cecilia Kang in the Washington Post:

For consumers who want to cut their cable cord and get all of their television from the Internet, there’s been a major obstacle: It’s hard to get live sports and local news.

Now a Web start-up, called Aereo, is offering to remove that last barrier with a simple method. It is using antennas to pick up programming from public airwaves and then deliver shows into homes that have a Web connection — for as little as $10 a month.

With Aereo planning to expand its service to Washington and 21 other markets this summer, CBS, ABC and other big networks have attacked the upstart company with renewed vigor.

In lawsuits, they argued Aereo is little more than a content thief. But their efforts to persuade federal courts to shut it down have failed. On Monday, Fox Television’s parent company fired back, saying it might consider delivering its shows only through cable connections, no longer broadcasting them.

“We won’t just sit idle and allow our content to be actively stolen,” said Chase Carey, president of News Corp., which owns Fox Television. . . .

Aereo offers all of the programming that appears on CBS, NBC, Fox, ABC, PBS and about two dozen other channels. Customers could see NCAA tournament games live or the most recent episodes of “American Idol” or “Dancing With the Stars.”

Such shows are also freely available to consumers who use antennas to get their television. About 54 million people still watch over-the-air broadcast television.

But on top of that content, Aereo also allows for pausing live TV or recording shows and saving them for later — features once exclusive to subscribers of cable or satellite services. The company eventually envisions allowing consumers to pay for only what they watch, similar to ordering food items off an a la carte menu. . . .

In court, the networks banded together and argued that Aereo’s service violates copyright laws. Aereo countered that it was not trying to steal content but simply allowing consumers to use its antennas to access shows on public airwaves. A lower federal court sided with Aereo last year. Last week, two out of the three judges in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York agreed with the lower court’s decision.

After losing those battles, the television industry is expected to take its case to Capitol Hill, some analysts said. Others predicted the unique and complicated case could reach the Supreme Court.

“If Aereo’s model is ultimately upheld,” Stifel Nicolaus analysts Christopher King and David Kaut wrote in a recent note, it could force “the broadcast/content companies to seek Congressional relief.”

via As Aereo threatens to alter TV landscape, major networks promise a fight – The Washington Post.

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  • SKPeterson

    No mention of Aereokiller and what is going on in the Ninth Circuit.

  • Pete

    ” Television stations are howling that their content is being “stolen.” But how can it be stolen if the stations are giving it away for free?”

    Fascinating question and I am eagerly awaiting some of the erudite and insightful comments that are likely to appear on this thread. I imagine the sticking point here is control – the networks do provide their broadcasts for free but, if the shows are rebroadcast via Aereo, they will lose some control of the presentation and will, in addition, be jumbled in among all their competitors. Not that they aren’t already (jumbled together in the cable box) but there would be a different quality to it – a different “shared space”.

  • Tom Hering

    Cable, satellite, and internet viewing services all pay rebroadcasting fees in order to carry network affiliates (local stations) or show content provided directly by the networks. It’s a major source of income (along with advertising) for both the networks and their affiliates. These fees have to be paid because cable, etc. are retransmitting broadcast signals to make a profit, and broadcast signals are (legally) only free to individuals for personal use in their homes. Aereo gets around this because its subscribers are renting physical, individual antennas (with live/pause/record capabilities) from them, and so Aereo isn’t (legally/technically) retransmitting. Which results in a loss of rebroadcasting fees for networks and affiliates. So it’s the current network business model that’s under threat.

  • kempin04

    The key, of course, is money. Broadcast stations are paid by advertisers on the basis of how many homes their advertising will reach. I don’t know how the ratings are calculated for over the air broadcast, but I imagine that their primary income at this point is through the measurable exposure they get through the cable system. Aereo offers the chance to short-circuit that loop and allow consumers to get it A) without paying for cable, of which the network gets a share, and B), without documentation that will demonstrate this new viewership to advertisers.

    The real question, I suppose, is why the networks aren’t doing this for themselves and selling their content directly through the internet, rather than only through the cable system. I’m sure they are contracted out of it for now, but technologically speaking, the cable companies are the “middle man” that is no longer required.

  • Rev. Jonathon Bakker

    Someone once told me that if you’re not paying for a product, then it means that *you* are the product. Facebook, for instance, has customers it seeks to please: the paying advertisers. Advertisers buy space and time on your computer screen, and Facebook makes its money. TV networks provide their advertisers 8-9 minutes of time on your television in your home every 30 minutes. In order to bribe you into watching commercials, or even some commercials when you’re not in the washroom or grabbing a snack, TV networks purchase and air (and some produce them themselves) entertaining programming content. Professional and college sports broadcasts, news and weather broadcasts, soap operas, etc. are all means by which we are bribed by TV networks to watch the commercials their advertisers air. If you’re not watching commercials, then your provider must be earning the money to pay for that content some other way. Netflix does it with their monthly fee. Hulu reduces ads with your fee. Amazon is the same. If Aereo is taking the products and rebroadcasting them with the original content advertising, that would be a boon to those who pay for TV broadcasts in the first place – wider audience. If Aereo is eliminating such advertising, or replacing it with other advertising, that would be the opposite, and it would be hard not to call it stealing.

  • Rev. Anthony Iovine

    I am an Aereo subscriber here in Northern New Jersey. At first, I thought it was a joke since it was just over-the-air TV that is free with an antenna. However, my opinion changed almost immediately upon using the service. Having the freedom to watch local TV 6pm news while in my church office computer, on my iPad while I am on the train, or on TV in my bedroom via Airplay on Apple TV is terrific. I do not have to sit in the living room in front of the TV to watch the local news anymore. Add this to Netflix and Hulu, I can see the end of my DirecTV contract.

  • Jon

    TomH@3 said:

    “Aereo gets around this because its subscribers are renting physical, individual antennas (with live/pause/record capabilities) from them, and so Aereo isn’t (legally/technically) retransmitting.”

    How are the cable companies also not rebroadcasting, then, under the same logic?
    If I understand how Aereo works, it takes the over air signals and sends them out over the internet to an “antenna,” as you describe it, inside of the user’s computer and includes DVR-like capabilities.
    How, exactly, is that different than what the cable companies are doing?

    And, speaking of being cable-free, let’s not forget that most folks who have high-speed internet are still beholden to one of these communications companies anyway.

  • Joe

    My understanding is that Cable companies pay the networks a fee to carry their content.

    As for how it is stealing? Its called conversion and it is a tort. You cannot take someone else’s property, without their permission and use as if it were your own. You can’t convert it to your own use without permission. The fact that they give it away for free is irrelevant because they give it away for free on their own terms and are free to stop or restrict it whenever they want.

    If I write a book and decide I want to hand out free copies, would you argue that I can’t make my giving out of free copies contingent upon you not selling it to someone else?

  • Tom Hering

    Jon @ 7, cable companies are indeed rebroadcasting (picking up and piping over-the-air signals), which is why they pay big fees to networks and their affiliates. Aereo, on the other hand, is an antenna farm. It’s where your personal (tiny) antenna is located (plugged in alongside thousands of other subscribers’ antennas). Your antenna belongs to you, and Aereo doesn’t own the internet service your TV/PC/laptop/tablet/phone uses to connect to your remote antenna. (So they’re not legally rebroadcasting because they don’t own the systems that pick up or pipe over-the-air signals to you. Neither are they charging you for content created and owned by others.)

  • DonS

    As SKP said @ 1, a district court in the 9th Circuit came to an opposite conclusion, with respect to Aereo’s erstwhile competitor, Aereokiller, specifically rejecting the reasoning of the Second Circuit. The Second Circuit has a reputation for disdaining copyrights, while the Ninth Circuit, home of Hollywood, likes them. This case will eventually go to the Supreme Court, given the conflicting lower case rulings, and I would bet against Aereo prevailing. The court based its holding on its prior ruling in the 2008 Cablevision case, which reversed the lower court ruling of infringement by Cablevision’s remote storage DVR system of the copyrights of content providers. It’s a technical ruling, based on an argument that the re-broadcast is not a public performance, within the meaning of copyright law, because each subscriber owns his own little antenna, and thus the re-broadcast is “private”. It also requires finding that buffering the work, and copying it into a user’s RAM memory is not fixing the work in a tangible medium of expression. That’s an absurdity — no other circuit has followed the Cablevision holding, to the best of my knowledge, and no other circuit is likely to follow the Aereo holding.

  • Tom Hering

    Hmm. I thought it was the 1984 Betamax case that’s relevant here (the Cablevision case was pretty much a replay – pun intended – as is the Aereo case). The same people who didn’t want you to have a VCR in your home don’t want you to have Aereo. So, really, just how winning are their arguments likely to prove?

  • kerner

    Dr. Veith:

    In answer to question 2, newer tvs are perfectly capable of being hooked up to a newer computer with a simple vga or hdmi cable. Right now, I have that setup. I originally did it for Netflix and youtube, before I had a roku (dedicated device for this), and also because I didn’t have an extra dvd player, and there was one built into the computer. So, if I were going to go with Aereo, which I very well might, what I would simply do is connect a computer (it could be a 2-3 year old one purchased on Craigs List if I wanted to be really cheap) with a dvd player and connect it to a decent HD tv set. Get a wireless mouse (and maybe a wireless keyboard) to control the computer from across the room. And Voila! I can watch all the Aereo channels, I can watch Netflix, I can watch youtube, I can watch hulu from its website, I can watch Amazon from its website, if my cable provider has ESPN3, I can watch THAT from its website, plus, now my computer has a 42 inch monitor (my tv),for anything else I want to do on the internet or just on the computer itself, such as play dvds. Except for Aereo, this is pretty much what I am doing now. Right now, I CAN get all the HD broadcast channels in Milwaukee, however, so I don’t know why I need Aereo.

    Oh, and by the way, a lot of the networks have their network shows available on the feeds from their websites the day after they air (but like the broadcasts you can’t skip the commercials). So, if my wife misses her favorite network tv show (NCIS), we can just go to the website on the computer hooked up to the tv, go to the network website, click on the episode we want to watch, click on “full screen”, and it’s just like watching it on the day it was broadcast.

  • kerner
  • kerner

    oops. I meant if my internet provider carries ATT does, time warner does not (probably because they don’t want to encourage us to do without cable).

  • Tom Hering

    Kerner, can you time-shift the programming on the Milwaukee channels you receive? That’s what Aereo allows you to do, as well as watch network programming live – same day instead of next day. I think it will prove a good service for people (like me) who are satisfied with a single pipe of content, but want to watch that content on any device, and specific content at preferred times. All for cheap. (And Aereo plans to offer a la carte pricing in the future.)

    The real clincher for me is whether or not Aereo is interference-free (no article I’ve read has said whether it is or not). The old analog signals were bad sometimes, but usually still watchable. Not so with the new digital signals. Little things like wind and leaves on trees can badly corrupt (pixelate) and even totally disrupt them (blank screen). Where I live, I receive four stations by antenna – ABC, CBS, FOX, and PBS (each has three digital channels, and each channel has different content) – and they all transmit from the same general area about thirty miles north of me. The ABC, CBS, and FOX signals are often unwatchable (sometimes for days or weeks in a row) due to digital-specific interference, while the PBS signals are perfect, 24/7/365. (So it’s obvious the quality of the stations’ transmitters is a factor.) If Aereo gave me perfect reception of all four stations (twelve channels), it would be worth $12 a month. Otherwise, not.

  • Tom Hering

    Oh, and of course, Aereo also provides a lot of over-the-air content beyond what you can receive locally with standard home antennas.

  • Question: are commercials still being shown? If so, then there’s no issue. No different than receiving the station on a regular tv.

    For the record, we do not have netflix, satellite, cable, uverse, or anything else. If we want to watch something, we rent it, and have satellite radio for sports (The only time I really miss TV is for football).

  • Helen K.