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NY City Residents Can Watch Free Streams of 15 Local TV Channels… For Now

If you are a resident of New York City, you can now stream 15 over the air local television stations for free, at least until the station owners send their lawyers after the coalition running the new service.

Locast.org is owned and operated by Sports Fan Coalition NY, a non-profit organization best known for successfully petitioning the Federal Communications Commission to eliminate the Sports Blackout Rule that forced local broadcast stations near stadiums to black out a game if a team did not sell a certain percentage of tickets by a certain time prior to the game.

The group launched Locast to challenge the idea that those unable to receive good reception of over-the-air local stations need to subscribe to a pay television provider to get a clear and reliable picture. Cord-cutters, in particular, often fear the loss of local television stations when they drop their cable subscription. Locast is designed to make sure those relying on streamed entertainment can also get free broadcast television over their internet connection.

The service currently provides 15 channels that broadcast in New York City:

  • WABC (ABC)
  • WCBS (CBS)
  • WNBC (NBC)
  • WNYW (FOX)
  • WNET (PBS)
  • WLIW (PBS)
  • WWOR (MyNetworkTV)
  • WPIX (CW)
  • WPXN (Ion)
  • WNJU (Telemundo)
  • WFUT (UniMás)
  • WMBC (Ind.)
  • WLNY (Ind.)
  • WFTY (Justice Network)
  • WNYE (NYLIFE)

Viewers must live within the New York City television market to receive the service, and Locast enforces this with GPS and other similar location verification tools. Some residents of northern New Jersey complain they are unable to access the service, despite being within the New York City television market, a problem the group recognized and is attempting to fix. Viewers can watch the service on a desktop computer, mobile device, or tablet. There is no DVR service available at this time.

Stream quality is acceptable, but not stellar. In tests, we found the service suffered from occasional artifacts and was somewhat grainy. This would be particularly noticeable on a large screen television, much less so on portable devices. The picture was slightly better than Standard Definition. There were occasions when certain channels were unavailable and others suffered from streaming problems that caused portions of the audio or video to disappear. Remember, however, the service is new and free.

Locast offers a web-based interface.

The biggest challenge to Locast will not be the video quality of its streaming television channels. It will be dealing with lawyers.

Locast, like many similar services that came before it, relies on a novel interpretation of U.S. Copyright Law and the perceived loopholes it offers those who want to attempt to expand the definition of how consumers receive broadcast television signals. In this case, the service compares itself to a digital translator service similar to what some television stations use to distribute their signals to remote low-power translator stations that act as repeaters — providing better reception of stations that have trouble reaching parts of their local market.

Over the past two decades, several companies have tried and failed to offer independent online streams of television stations without the permission of station owners.

In 1999, iCraveTV provided more than a dozen Canadian and American television stations received over the air in Toronto made available to a nationwide online audience. The over-the-air stations (and the networks they affiliated with) in Buffalo, N.Y., promptly launched legal action against the company, challenging its claim it was entitled to offer the service because it was effectively a cable operator. International copyright law claims led to a preliminary injunction against the service and the threat of costly ongoing litigation convinced the owner of iCraveTV to stop the service in return for dropping lawsuits.

In 2011, ivi.tv streamed television signals from Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago until a judge signed an injunction forcing those stations off the paid service. Several court actions against FilmOn.com, a similar service operating around the same time, also stripped most of its TV station lineup off the service.

The highest profile attempt to avoid getting permission from TV station owners to stream their programming came in 2012 with the launch of Aereo, which sought to exploit a perceived loophole in what constituted reception of a TV station. Aereo assigned a tiny antenna for each customer to receive over the air stations, starting in the New York City area. Stations received by that antenna were delivered to subscribers over an internet video stream. The idea was that Aereo was not distributing one TV signal for multiple customers. It was merely extending the concept of an ‘antenna’ to include internet delivery of signals to those verifiably living within the New York City television market.

Broadcasters ran up large legal bills to defeat Aereo in two major court cases. In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Aereo, claiming it breached copyright law. The service attempted one last effort to stay up and running, asking the U.S. Copyright Office for a copyright license after the Supreme Court seemed to call the service a “cable system.” Both the Copyright Office and a district court found Aereo was not entitled to a cable compulsory license and granted broadcasters a preliminary injunction that effectively put Aereo out of business.

All of these ventures attempted similar arguments that Locast is now using to justify why it should be allowed to distribute live streams of local television stations without the consent of station owners. The courts have traditionally bowed to the broadcasters and their allied lobbyists, television networks, and pay television providers that would feel threatened if a service like Locast gave away for free what they sell to consumers.

The Sports Fan Coalition’s legal justification comes from an exception Congress made to the copyright law’s insistence that permission from a station owner was required to redistribute their signal, unless one operated a cable system.

“Any ‘non-profit organization’ could make a ‘secondary transmission’ of a local broadcast signal, provided the non-profit did not receive any ‘direct or indirect commercial advantage’ and either offered the signal for free or for a fee ‘necessary to defray the actual and reasonable costs’ of providing the service. 17 U.S.C. 111(a)(5),” the group argues. “Sports Fans Coalition NY is a non-profit organization under the laws of New York State. Locast.org does not charge viewers for the digital translator service (although we do ask for contributions) and if it does so, will only recover costs as stipulated in the copyright statute. Finally, in dozens of pages of legal analysis provided to Sports Fans Coalition, an expert in copyright law concluded that under this particular provision of the copyright statute, secondary transmission may be made online, the same way traditional broadcast translators do so over the air.”

Traditionally, ‘secondary transmission’ has meant a building or complex owner receiving a station over the air from a rooftop antenna and providing it to tenants or residents over a Master Antenna TV coaxial cable connection (or similar technology). College campuses, hospitals, and other multi-dwelling unit owners often provide similar wired reception of over the air stations as well, to assure quality reception.

Translator stations that pick up and repeat a television station on an adjacent channel to offer better reception in difficult-to-reach viewing areas typically run with the full consent, or are owned by, the television station they rebroadcast.

Locast attempts to broaden the definition of ‘secondary transmission’ to include distribution over the internet through video streaming. Although their expert in copyright law believes this is permissible, there are multiple court cases where judges have ruled against these types of services when a broadcaster objects. Locast will likely face time in a courtroom arguing for its right to exist, something the venture readily admits is likely to happen.

Philadelphia Latest City to Get Free Locast Streaming of Local TV Stations

Phillip Dampier November 7, 2018 Locast, Video No Comments

Philadelphia is joining New York, Chicago, Dallas, Boston, Houston, and Denver as the latest city to get free streaming of local, over-the-air TV stations from an innovative non-profit “digital translator” service.

Locast began streaming 15 local Philadelphia broadcasters on Monday, viewable on computers and portable devices including Roku, laptops, smartphones, and tablets.

Locast Philadelphia Lineup (Partial)

  • 2 — KJWP Wilmington, Del./Philadelphia (MeTV)
  • 3 — KYW Philadelphia (CBS)
  • 6 — WPVI Philadelphia (ABC)
  • 10 –WCAU Philadelphia (NBC)
  • 12 — WHYY Wilmington, Del. (PBS)
  • 17 — WPHL Philadelphia (MyTV)
  • 29 — WTXF Philadelphia (FOX)
  • 57 — WPSG Philadelphia (CW)
  • Unknown Station
  • 65 — WUVP Vineland, N.J. (Univision)
  • 69 — WFMZ Allentown (Ind.)

So far, Locast has survived while services like Aereo have not, because it is was designed to exploit a loophole in the Copyright Act of 1976.

Under Title 17, Chapter 1, section 111 (a)(5) of the Act, Locast is legal because the law exempts anyone who offers a “secondary transmission not made by a cable system but is made by a governmental body, or other nonprofit organization, without any purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage, and without charge to the recipients of the secondary transmission other than assessments necessary to defray the actual and reasonable costs of maintaining and operating the secondary transmission service,” from having to get permission from the stations involved.

David Goodfriend, a Washington, D.C. attorney and founder of Locast, may only have legal exposure if a court determines the law was intended to cover translator television broadcasting, not online streaming. But so far, broadcasters and their lobbying groups, including the National Association of Broadcasters, have surprisingly ignored Locast and its gradual expansion.

Because the service is offered free of charge, Locast accepts voluntary contributions from viewers who use and appreciate the service. Goodfriend keeps costs down by leasing space on an affordable building’s roof, places a traditional TV antenna on it, and then contracts with a local internet service provider to distribute the signals over the internet. To remain legal, Locast asks to verify all of its viewers’ locations, and only permits viewing inside a covered city’s reception area.

Locast founder David Goodfriend recently appeared on Cheddar to discuss Locast and how it can be an ally for traditional TV broadcasters. (5:49)

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)

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

aereo_logo

“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 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.

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