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Judge Orders Permanent Injunction That Likely Deals Final Death Blow to Locast

The same New York District Court judge that forced a temporary shutdown of Locast, which streamed over the air broadcasts inside their communities of service, has dealt what is likely a final death blow against the non-profit group, issuing a permanent injunction that forbids the service from operating.

Judge Louis L. Stanton signed the two-page permanent injunction on Wednesday:

ORDERED that, Defendants, along with their officers, agents, servants, employees, attorneys and other persons who are in active concert or participation with Defendants or the officers, agents, servants, employees, or attorneys (if they receive actual notice pursuant to Rule 65 (d) (2) of the Federal Rules of Civil procedure) are permanently restrained and enjoined from operating Locast.

Two weeks earlier, Judge Stanton found Locast’s arguments that it was operating legally under an exemption to the Copyright Act to be uncompelling. Locast had argued it was operating a translator service on a not-for-profit basis, offering TV stations improved coverage within their broadcast service area at no charge to station owners or viewers. But Judge Stanton found Locast was nagging viewers with persistent requests for donations, interrupting the signal every 15 minutes for those who did not contribute at least $5 a month. In his mind, that made Locast a de facto subscription service, and an apparently profitable one, collecting at least $2 million more than it needed to operate the service in the past year.

Stanton ruled Locast’s profits disqualified the service from being considered exempt from the Copyright Act, and rejected Locast’s arguments that as a translator service, it did not need the permission of local stations to stream their signals.

Locast earlier predicted it planned to appeal. Unless it does and wins an appeal ruling in its favor, the three-year old service will remain permanently closed down.

Locast Plans to Appeal Crippling Court Loss, But Service Shuttered for Now

Phillip Dampier September 2, 2021 Competition, Consumer News, Locast, Online Video 3 Comments

Locast, like Aereo and Ivi before it, has ceased streaming local, over the air television signals on a non-profit basis after a New York federal court judge ruled the service is violating U.S. copyright law by receiving more funding than it needs. But in developments this afternoon, there is word an appeal is planned.

Since January 2018, Locast has attempted to provide its service legally by operating as an independent “translator service,” extending streams of over-the-air signals to viewers within the acknowledged viewing range of the stations. Locast used geofencing technology to block more distant viewers, and sought support for its service with a suggested contribution of $5 a month. Non-paying viewers were nagged with donation request messages that interrupted each stream every 15 minutes.

Despite its limited service areas, Locast amassed over 3 million regular users in its 36 served TV markets over the last three years. That growth represented a threat to lucrative retransmission fee revenue collected by TV station and network owners, who promptly sued Locast in federal court in 2019. A part of that lawsuit was decided Tuesday in favor of the broadcasters.

Judge Louis L. Stanton rejected Locast’s claim it was exempt from Section 111 (a) (5) of the U.S. Copyright Act, which allowed it to stream over the air signals without getting permission from those stations in advance. That section of the Copyright Act was designed to provide a loophole for independent non-profit translator stations, which in some rural areas pick up difficult to receive TV stations and rebroadcast them locally on other channels. Some of these translator operations existed before the days of cable and satellite television, and well before the internet as we know it ever existed. But many of these services were provided through low-power transmitters operated inside large apartment complexes or hotels for the enjoyment of tenants or guests. The Copyright Act allowed groups to retransmit TV signals as long as they lacked “direct or indirect commercial advantage” and did not charge viewers in excess of the “actual and reasonable costs of maintaining and operating the secondary transmission service.”

What got Locast in trouble with the judge is the fact the service nagged viewers to make $5 donations if they wanted the nagging messages to end, and those contributions delivered healthy revenue to Locast of $4.51 million in 2020, while the costs to provide the service were just $2.43 million that same year.

“On those undisputed facts, in 2020 Locast made far more money from user charges than was necessary to defray its costs of maintaining and operating its service,” Judge Stanton wrote. Stanton also rejected arguments that excess revenue was used to expand Locast into new markets, claiming the law was quite clear limiting charges only to the “actual and reasonable costs” incurred providing the service, not for expanding it. Stanton ruled Locast could not charge viewers to raise funds to expand into new markets. Had Judge Stanton accepted Locast’s argument that it was pouring excess revenue into expanding its service, not to make a profit, the broadcaster’s legal case could have been seriously weakened and Locast would have continued operating pending the final disposition of the lawsuit.

Instead, perhaps bowing to the court’s judgment that Locast’s contribution system was hampering its case, last evening Locast notified users it was suspending requests for contributions aired every 15 minutes, and hoped supporters would continue contributions anyway. But early this morning, Locast went further and announced the immediate suspension of its video streaming service.

In an e-mail to supporters, Locast announced:

We are suspending operations, effective immediately.

As a non-profit, Locast was designed from the very beginning to operate in accordance with the strict letter of the law, but in response to the court’s recent rulings, with which we respectfully disagree, we are hereby suspending operations, effective immediately.

Thank you.

Judge Stanton

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which has supported Locast with legal assistance in this case, criticized the judge’s ruling.

“We are disappointed that the court ruled against Locast on its copyright defense,” the EFF said in a statement. “The court interpreted the law in an artificially narrow way. Congress wrote copyright’s nonprofit retransmission exception to make sure that every American has access to their local broadcast stations, and expanding access is exactly what Locast does.”

The EFF said Judge Stanton’s ruling may not be the end of Locast, however.

“Locast has decided to suspend its operations. The case will continue, likely including an appeal, to resolve the remaining issues in the case. The problem remains: broadcasters keep using copyright law to control where and how people can access the local TV that they’re supposed to be getting for free,” a lawyer at the EFF said in a statement.

Theoretically, Locast could be restructured to spin off each of its markets into independent non-profit entities responsible for raising funds to maintain current operations and possibly be found “legal” under the U.S. Copyright Act provisions. New markets could be launched independently as well, starting with fundraisers to launch the service and then additional fundraising to maintain each operation.

Any legal appeal would likely be based on Stanton’s determination that “expansion” was disallowed under the Copyright Act, even though most non-profit entities raise funds to expand their operations all the time.

But for now, Locast will likely remain dark until the remaining legal issues are settled or determined.

Locast Comes to Cleveland

Phillip Dampier March 10, 2021 Consumer News, Locast, Online Video 1 Comment

Cleveland, Ohio area residents now have access to over 70 over-the-air channels from northeast Ohio thanks to the efforts of Locast, a nonprofit service that streams local broadcast stations online with the request of a monthly donation.

The Cleveland broadcast market includes the cities of Cleveland, Akron, Ashland, Ashtabula, Canton, Mansfield, and Sandusky and encompasses almost four million viewers. Locast’s app and website use location verification to provide service only to those living or traveling inside one of their 30 service areas. To access Cleveland-area stations, online viewers must be inside Ashland, Ashtabula, Carroll, Cuyahoga, Erie, Geauga, Holmes, Huron, Lake, Lorain, Medina, Portage, Richland, Stark, Summit, Tuscarawas, or Wayne County.

Among the stations included: WKYC NBC 3, WEWS ABC 5, WJW FOX 8, WOIO CBS 19, PBS and PBS Kids, as well as DABL, Univision, Azteca America, CourtTV, Mystery, MeTV, TrueCrime, QUBO, Circle, The CW, BOUNCE, Movies!, LAFF, COMET, cheddar, ION, GRIT, Charge!, and more.

Locast now has more than 2.5 million registered users nationwide in 30 markets reaching approximately half of the U.S. population. In 2020, Locast added over 1 million users. The service selects new cities to cover based on donations and requests. Locast also looks favorably on requests that volunteer a safe and permanent location where it can locate its equipment to receive and stream over the air stations.

T-Mobile Introduces New Suite of Cord-Cutter Streaming TV Options Starting at $10/Month

After months of testing, T-Mobile’s streaming TV service TVision will debut for some existing T-Mobile wireless customers on Nov. 1, with three packages starting at $10/month.

Although late to the already-competitive cord-cutting streaming TV marketplace, T-Mobile hopes to shake up the market with more choices and, in some cases, lower pricing.

“People sure love TV — but they sure don’t love their TV provider,” T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert said during a livestream previewing the TVision service. Sievert claimed the cable and satellite TV customers are fed up being ‘held hostage’ by programming lineup choices made by everyone but the customer, leaving consumers with costly bundles containing “live news and sports with hundreds of other channels you don’t want. Get ready to un-cable, everybody.”

The service will initially be available Nov. 1, but only to T-Mobile postpaid wireless customers. By the end of November, Sprint postpaid customers will also be invited to sign up. Prepaid T-Mobile and Sprint customers are expected to have access to the service sometime in 2021, along with those who do not have a T-Mobile or Sprint account. Non-customers will pay an undetermined surcharge.

TVision’s Android TV device, with remote control.

Details:

TVision will be available for streaming through apps on iOS, Android/Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Apple TV. It is currently not available on the Roku platform. Customers can also purchase a TVision Hub, a $50 Android TV device that plugs into an HDMI port on the back of your television to bring the streaming service to traditional television sets, along with a platform to use over 8,000 apps that already work with Android TV, including competing streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and CBS All Access.

Special Offer:

New customers who sign up for Live TV Plus or Live Zone by Dec. 31, 2020 will receive 12 months of free Apple TV Plus service and an $80 rebate offer for the Apple TV 4K set-top box (retails at $179, but will cost $99 after rebate).

Available Packages:

T-Mobile’s philosophy is that customers want to choose between packages containing general entertainment fare, news and sports, local TV, and premium channels. The more categories you want, the higher the price. If you want all four, you are likely going to pay pricing rivaling what you already pay your current provider. True, a-la-carte packages allowing customers to select specific channels is not available. T-Mobile currently has no agreement with CBS, so this means CBS network programming and local affiliates are not accessible on TVision at this time. The three higher priced Live packages include 100 hours of DVR cloud-based recording.

TVision Vibe (general entertainment) ($10/mo for 30 channels, up to 2 concurrent streams): AMC, Animal Planet, BBC America, BBC World News, BET, BET Her, CMT, Comedy Central, Discovery, DIY, Food Network, HGTV, Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, Hallmark Drama, IFC, ID, MotorTrend, MTV, MTV Classic, MTV2, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., Nicktoons, OWN, Paramount Network, Sundance, Teen Nick, TLC, Travel Channel, TV Land, WEtv

TVision Live (emphasizing live news and local stations) ($40/mo for 30+ channels, up to 3 concurrent streams) Does not include networks from the Vibe package, which has to be purchased separately): ABC*, ABC News Live, Bravo, CNBC, Cartoon Network/Adult Swim, CNN, Cozi TV, Disney Channel, Disney Jr., Disney XD, E!, ESPN, ESPN2, Fox*, Fox Business Network, Fox News Channel, Freeform, FS1, FS2, FX, FXX, HLN, MSNBC, National Geographic, NBC*, NBC News Now, NBC Sports Network, Oxygen, Syfy, TBS, Telemundo*, TNT, truTV, USA

TVision Live Plus (enhances live sports options) ($50/mo for 40+ channels, up to 3 concurrent streams): Includes all channels from TVision Live package plus ACC Network, Big Ten Network, ESPNews, ESPNU, ESPN College Extra, FXM, Longhorn Network*, NatGeo Wild, NBC regional sports networks*, NECN*, NFL Network, Olympic Channel, SEC Network, SNY*, TCM, Golf Channel

TVision Live Zone (brings even more live sports and Spanish language networks) ($60/mo for 50+ channels, up to 3 concurrent streams): Includes all channels from TVision Live Plus package plus Boomerang, CNBC World, ESPN Deportes, Fox Deportes, NFL RedZone, Universal Kids, Universo, MavTV

A-la-carte premium channels:

  • Starz ($8.99 per month): 28 channels
  • Showtime ($10.99 per month): 16 channels
  • Epix ($5.99 per month): 4 channels

(*-may not be available in all TV markets. For exact TV lineup in your area, visit here.)

T-Mobile’s CEO Mike Sievert announces TVision, the company’s new streaming TV service. (3:19)

Peacock Launches on Roku After NBCUniversal Reaches Agreement

Phillip Dampier September 21, 2020 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video, Peacock 1 Comment

NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming service app is now finally available on Roku devices and Roku-enabled televisions, almost 10 weeks after the new streaming service launched.

Peacock’s appearance on Roku came after NBCUniversal and Roku reached a deal guaranteeing NBCU’s networks (and corresponding apps for 11 NBCU networks, 12 NBCU-owned local stations, and 23 Telemundo-owned local stations) will remain available on the Roku platform and in return, Roku will support Peacock. The deal was seen as crucial by analysts, because Roku has an installed user base of over 43 million accounts, with an estimated 100 million viewers in households across the country.

“We are pleased that NBC agreed to a very positive and mutually beneficial partnership to bring Peacock to America’s No. 1 streaming platform,” said Tedd Cittadine, Roku’s vice president of content acquisition. “We are excited by the opportunities to integrate NBC content within the Roku Channel while we also work together with Peacock on the development of a significant and meaningful advertising and ad tech partnership. This is a great outcome for consumers and we look forward to growing together with Peacock as they bring their incredible content to the Roku platform.”

Roku is also pleased whenever a significant content provider signs a deal with the company. Roku traditionally takes a 20% cut of all subscription revenue when a customer signs up for a service on the Roku platform. It receives at least 30% of the advertising time on free streaming services, allowing Roku to sell advertising and keep the money. NBCU appeared to be reluctant to accept those terms, and that is likely what caused the delay in debuting Peacock on Roku. Neither party would disclose the terms in the contract. Comcast is the parent company of NBCU.

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said last week Peacock had signed up at least 15 million new users over the last two months. But Roberts would not disclose how many were actually paying for the service. Peacock’s free, ad-supported tier offers over 13,000 hours of classic and current NBC programs, including entertainment, news, and sports. A small catalog of original series and other premium content is also available for $4.99 a month (or $49.99/yr), and users who want it all — without ads — can pay $9.99 a month (or $99.99/yr). Roberts likely needs a much larger subscriber base to make Peacock a viable proposition, making its availability on the Roku platform crucial.

Some analysts fear carriage disputes like this could open a new front in the “retransmission consent” wars, where national and local networks are blacked out when cable or satellite providers refuse to pay their asking prices. If Roku insists on being compensated in return for making services available in its app store and if content providers cannot reach an agreement, services could suddenly disappear, or never appear at all. HBO Max is still unavailable on Roku because parent company AT&T has yet to sign a contract with Roku, and Peacock remains unavailable on Amazon’s Fire TV platform and Samsung’s Smart TVs.

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