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Aereo Declared Illegal by Supreme Court; 6-3 Decision is Certain to End Streaming Venture

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“We did try, but it’s over now.” — Barry Diller, a major investor in Aereo

The multibillion dollar broadcasting conglomerates that control over-the-air television and most cable networks got everything they wanted today from a 6-3 decision in the U.S. Supreme Court that declared Aereo, an independent provider of online over-the-air television streams, illegal.

The court’s liberal justices joined Chief Justice John Roberts and moderate Anthony Kennedy in a complete repudiation of the legality of Aereo’s business model — selling over the air television signals received by individual tiny antennas and streamed over the Internet — without seeking permission from the stations involved. In a sweeping ruling, the court found that no matter the technology involved, any effort to resell access or copies of television programs without the permission of the copyright holders is illegal. “We conclude that Aereo is not just an equipment supplier,” Justice Breyer wrote in the opinion. “We do not see how the fact that Aereo transmits via personal copies of programs could make a difference.”

Aereo CEO and founder Chet Kanojia quickly released a statement declaring the decision “a massive setback for the American consumer.”

“We’ve said all along that we worked diligently to create a technology that complies with the law, but today’s decision clearly states that how the technology works does not matter. This sends a chilling message to the technology industry,” Kanojia said. “We are disappointed in the outcome, but our work is not done. We will continue to fight for our consumers and fight to create innovative technologies that have a meaningful and positive impact on our world.”

That is news to Barry Diller, perhaps Aereo’s biggest investor. He has said for months if Aereo loses in the Supreme Court, the service will be shut down. He repeated that today on CNBC.

“We did try, but it’s over now.” Diller said.

Image: Wall Street Journal

Image: Wall Street Journal

Reed Hundt, former FCC chairman under the Clinton Administration, said despite the fact the ruling may inconvenience Aereo subscribers, the court wasn’t wrong in its decision.

“Aereo has very little chance surviving in the business and Barry Diller got his hands caught in the regulatory cookie jar,” Hundt said. “You can’t use technological tricks to bypass [cable network] rules and regulations. I think that’s a very reasonable decision.”

Observers worried about the impact the Aereo case might have on ancillary services unintentionally caught up in any broad legal language, but the court appeared to carefully avoid those complications.

The ruling leaves antenna manufacturers unaffected because antenna users simply capture over-the-air signals for reception in the home without paying the kind of ongoing subscription fees Aereo charged its customers.

The decision also protects the legality of cloud computing, DVR recordings, and other new technologies not directly related to the lawsuit. “We agree with the Solicitor General that “[q]uestions involving cloud computing, [remote storage] DVRs, and other novel issues not before the Court, as to which ‘Congress has not plainly marked [the] course,’ should await a case in which they are squarely presented,” Breyer wrote.

The court’s liberal wing shared Breyer’s opinion. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan all voted in favor of broadcasters including Walt Disney (ABC), Comcast (NBC), CBS Corp., and FOX.

Conservatives slammed the majority ruling against Aereo, claiming the court was bending over backwards for Hollywood and giant broadcasting conglomerates. Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent ripped the majority’s ruling, claiming it would “sow confusion for years to come.” Scalia predicts there will be plenty of new litigation before the courts on issues related to online transmission of copyright works as a result of today’s decision.

Although Aereo was still pre-registering customers as of this afternoon, that isn’t likely to stay true for much longer. Aereo’s only bid to stay alive is to seek licensing agreements with the stations it distributes over its service. With broadcasters’ strengthened hand, it is unlikely they will be receptive to pricing agreements that would allow Aereo to continue providing service for $8 a month. Major cable and satellite operators are signing retransmission consent agreements with volume discounts that run above $1 a month per subscriber for each television station in a local area. In most cities, that would amount to at least $5 a month, but Aereo will likely face even higher costs because it lacks access to discounts.

[flv]http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNN Supreme Court rules against Aereo 6-25-14.mp4[/flv]

CNN attempts to explain the meaning of the Aereo case to its less-informed viewers with mixed success. But the story explains why this is relevant to cord cutters. (4:41)

[flv]http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Supreme Court Rules Against Aereo in Landmark Case 6-25-14.flv[/flv]

Bloomberg News reports the Aereo case was a decisive victory for programmers who now have a strengthened hand asking for more compensation during retransmission consent negotiations with cable and satellite providers. (1:55)

[flv]http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Aereo Ruling Gets Positive Response from Broadcasters 6-25-14.flv[/flv]

Broadcasters called today’s victory “pro-consumer” but that is open to debate. Bloomberg News digs deeper into what this case means for DVR and cloud storage services as well. (5:26)

[flv]http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Aereo Violating Broadcaster Copyrights Stocks Up 6-25-14.flv[/flv]

Wall Street is rewarding big television networks and station owner groups with higher stock prices after winning a decisive victory against Aereo, Bloomberg reports. (2:35)

Aereo Faces the Supreme Court Next Week in All-or-Nothing Appeal

aereo_logoAereo will face off with broadcasters next week in the U.S. Supreme Court over the legality of the online video provider’s business plan — using dime-sized individual antennas to receive over-the-air local stations and stream them to paying subscribers over the Internet.

On April 22, Aereo will appeal for its future as it presents its case to the high court in defense of a consumer’s right to access local stations over the air, even if a third-party installs an antenna on their behalf.

Broadcasters consider Aereo just another end run around copyright law, arguing the online service has no right to profit off the resale of their signals to consumers without permission and compensation.

Today Aereo launched a website, ProtectMyAntenna.org that frames its legal case as a basic viewing rights issue. Aereo says the broadcasters’ intransigence is nothing new — they also fought cable television and the videocassette recorder in the courts in the past, suggesting both technologies were stealing their signals.

protect my antenna“What is at stake in this case is much bigger than Aereo,” says the website. “We believe that consumers are entitled to use a modern, cloud-based, version of an antenna and DVR and that consumers should not be constrained to 1950’s era technology to watch free-to-air broadcast television. The broadcasters’ positions in this case, if sustained, would impair cloud innovation and threaten the myriad benefits to individuals, companies, and the economy at large of the advances in cloud computing and cloud storage.”

The Obama Administration has sided with the broadcasters and is seeking time to speak before the Court on the broadcasters’ behalf. Consumer groups are largely lined up behind Aereo, claiming online video competition is something worth protecting.

The crux of the case is likely to be which side is correct in their interpretation of what defines a “public performance,” which makes all the difference in determining whether Aereo must pay broadcasters or not. Private viewing at home is protected by earlier case-law and if Aereo is found to simply be facilitating home viewing, it will likely be deemed legal. Aereo assigns a single antenna to each customer, a fact they hope will strengthen its argument they are not redistributing programming to the masses. How the signal gets to the customer, over an antenna cable or the Internet, should not make any difference.

Broadcasters are hoping for a different interpretation — one popular in California courts, that would find any redistribution of programming over the Internet to be a public performance. Several other ventures have tried to launch virtual cable systems that streamed over the air stations and all were quickly shut down by west coast courts. Aereo has better lawyers, deeper pockets, and apparently a better argument that won favor in several eastern U.S. courts last year.

The Supreme Court will ultimately decide Aereo’s fate. If it loses, expect it to close down operations immediately. If Aereo wins, the company expects to continue expanding into other television markets across the country.

Aereo currently provides service in 11 U.S. cities.

[flv]http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Yahoo Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia on the Future of TV 4-17-14.flv[/flv]

Katie Couric from Yahoo! News sat down for an extensive interview about Aereo with its CEO Chet Kanojia. Kanojia argues broadcasters were already well-compensated when they received free spectrum for their stations. (20:20)

If Aereo Wins Lawsuit, Head of CBS Says He’ll Consider Taking the Network Off the Air

Phillip Dampier March 12, 2014 Consumer News, Online Video 6 Comments

cbsCBS head Les Moonves is ready to take the CBS television network off broadcast television and move it to a pay television platform where he can protect the network’s revenue should the Aereo video streaming service be deemed legal.

Aereo’s fate is likely to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in April, and if it should prevail providing local television signals over streaming video without paying the network for the programming, CBS is prepared to walk away from over 50 years of free over the air television.

“If Aereo should win, which we don’t think will happen, we can go ‘over the top’ with CBS,” Moonves said on Tuesday at an investor conference. “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.”

“Over the top” refers to streaming programming over the Internet.

Cable, satellite and telco TV customers would be unaffected because CBS already receives compensation from those pay television venues. But those watching over the air would lose CBS unless they maintained an Internet-based subscription to the network.

Moonves said he will play hardball against any “systems out there that try to hurt us.”

Aereo Coming to Austin March 3; Residents Can Pre-Register Now

Phillip Dampier February 24, 2014 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video 1 Comment
Aereo's over the air antenna is about the size of a dime.

Aereo’s over the air antenna is about the size of a dime.

Aereo is coming to Austin in March.

Already available in four other Texas cities, Aereo will allow Austin residents to watch local over-the-air television stations on mobile devices, tablets or home computers through live video streaming.

Aereo will accept customers for its Austin service from these counties: Bastrop, Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Fayette, Gillespie, Hays, Lee, Llano, Mason, Travis and Williamson.

Customers are invited to sign up early for the waiting list on their website to get the service first when it launches March 3. Aereo Austin subscribers will be able to record and watch 19 over-the-air channels, at rates starting at $8 a month.

Aereo Banned in Six States; Utah Judge Rules Service Violates Copyright Laws

aereo_logoA Utah federal district court judge has found Aereo in violation of federal copyright law and must end online streaming of over the air television stations to customers within his jurisdiction, which includes Utah, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Wyoming and Oklahoma.

U.S. District Court Judge Dale A. Kimball broke ranks with district court judges in the eastern U.S. that have ruled Aereo’s streamed feeds of local television stations received over the air by tiny antennas is within the law, but the Supreme Court is expected to have the last word when it hears arguments about the service’s legality later this spring.

The ruling means Aereo will have to suspend service in two of its 10 operating markets — Salt Lake City and Denver. Service to other markets will continue unaffected for now.

Kimball’s decision was based on The Copyright Act of 1976 which requires broadcasters and retransmission services to pay royalties to content originators, in this case the networks and the affiliated local stations involved. Broadcasters consider Aereo a major threat to their retransmission consent revenue stream. Cable, satellite, and telephone company providers are collectively paying millions for permission to carry local stations on their lineups. Should Aereo offer a free alternative, these pay television providers could adopt similar technology to avoid paying the fees.

Kimball determined Aereo was operating more like a cable company than a remote antenna service.

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