Broadcast television may be in for a rude awakening. The Supreme Court will hear arguments on Tuesday in a case involving Aereo, an Internet television service that has incensed major TV networks such as NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox and launched a conversation on the future of broadcast.
Aereo’s service offers a modern take on the "rabbit ears" antennae used for basic TV viewing. In exchange for purchasing a tiny, remote antenna, the company allows its subscribers to watch and record broadcast television over the Internet. However, unlike cable, Aereo takes television signals for free, so it doesn't pay a retransmission fee, a major revenue stream for network television.
As expected, the industry has been up in arms and sued Aereo for stealing their programming. In a November filing to the Supreme Court, Time Warner Inc. called out the service for its “phony so-called innovation” saying its “only real breakthrough is the avoidance of payment for copyright licenses.”
“In short, Aereo is simply a blatant free rider trying to make a quick buck without paying anything towards the true costs of what it misappropriates,” says a later Time Warner brief.
Aereo founder and CEO Chet Kanojia maintains that his product is a perfectly legal alternative to cable television. “The current system in which you get television is a highly integrated, monopoly-based sort of system,” Kanojia said in a PBS interview last year. “There’s no reason technology should stand still to protect old business models,” he added.
Columnist Michael Wolff agrees that Aereo is obviously poaching content, but says such behavior is part and parcel of the digital age. “Digital technology creates, for better or worse, a de facto license to steal intellectual property,” he writes. “In some sense, that fact, or ethos, has propelled the digital revolution, the nation's most important economic growth area. You don't rule against that lightly.”
Even if Aereo wins, some say the technology is unlikely to usher in a new era of television. For one, its television offerings are limited to whatever an antenna can pick up. That’s not the TV people want to watch, writes Bloomberg’s Joshua Brustein. “The type of content sent over the ariwaves has been losing ground to cable for years,” he writes, and people aren’t likely to forgo popular shows on HBO or other paid services for basic TV.
If Aereo loses, however, it’s lights out for the company. “There is no plan B,” Kanojia told the New York Times.
So what do you think? Should Aereo win its case against TV networks? Vote and comment below.