By JENNA JOHNSON
Since its debut in February 2012, Aereo has been a bone of legal contention among big broadcast networks. Aereo is a subscription-based service which allows users to stream live and time-shifted over-the-air signals to virtually any device — television, cell phone, or tablet.
The big names in broadcast television, such as ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox, expressed animosity toward Aereo, claiming that the service violates copyright laws and undermines the long-standing tradition of cable companies paying retransmission fees to the networks.
The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear the case beginning April 22, 2014.
However, some small and independent broadcasters (SIBs) and low power TV stations recently claimed that they back Aereo. They enjoy the exposure that Aereo gives their businesses.
Some of these stations told the court that they “depend heavily on such user-friendly viewing technologies to reach audiences, especially audiences who may not have viewing equipment, cable, or satellite television.”
The fate of SIBs is in the hands of the Supreme Court. If Aereo is found to not violate copyright laws (meaning their streams are not found to constitute as public performances), it could be a game changer.
No broadcast networks have ever really been able to compete with the “Big Three” with the exception of Fox, which came onto the scene in 1996. Since then, even with the availability of news from other platforms, the four biggest networks have reigned supreme.
But, if Aereo allows for streaming at a rate cheaper than cable, the large networks may lose some of their power. This is not to say that SIBs will trump the media giants, but they will definitely have the opportunity to offer a little competition.
Additionally, it is interesting to note that cable and broadcast networks were at odds when cable was first introduced. Aereo may create an alliance against a common foe. Both networks and cable companies will lose money and audiences with Aereo, and at least cable networks pay retransmission fees to the networks.
I personally doubt that the Supreme Court will find Aereo legal, unless networks and Aereo work out some sort of retransmission deal.
On the other hand, if Aereo is approved, the way we watch television could change forever. In today’s digital age, few care about the platform of entertainment or information as long as they get it, which makes the convenience of Aereo an increasingly appealing option.