Streaming-TV service Aereo on Thursday launched a Web site, protectmyantenna.com, explaining its position as it heads into oral arguments before the Supreme Court next Tuesday.
Aereo, which uses arrays of tiny antennas to grab broadcasters’ signals and stream them over the Internet to paying subscribers, is being sued by broadcasters for violating their copyright by not paying for the signals. Conversely, Aereo argues that those signals are provided free over-the-air for anyone with an antenna, so Aereo is just doing that on its customers’ behalf.
While several regional courts have found in Aereo’s favor, the tide of opinion recently has seemed to be turning in broadcasters’ favor, who have threatened to go to pay-TV models should Aereo prevail. Whether that’s a realistic possibility is unclear, and Variety explores the question in-depth here. Last month, the Obama administration took broadcasters’ side in the argument.
Meanwhile, Barry Diller, chairman of IAC/InterActive Corp., which owns Aereo, told The Hollywood Reporter, “I’ve never been involved in anything which turned sharply black-and-white as to whether or not you survived or died—and the answer is definitive. Now, of course, where I think the merits are is clear: If Aereo survives, it’s incomprehensible that it will have any particular effect on the economics of broadcasting.”
It’s a message Diller has been putting out there, telling Bloomberg on April 2, “If we lose, we’re finished.”
In the week leading up to next week’s oral arguments, Aereo has been out to the media in full force, with Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia talking to Yahoo’s Katie Couric this week.
Of course, broadcasters do not agree with Diller, who helped found the Fox Broadcast Network in 1984, arguing that should the Supreme Court allow Aereo continue unfettered, it will mean the death of free over-the-air broadcasting.
“We’re not going to sit idly by and let people steal our content,” Fox COO Chase Carey said one year ago at NAB, threatening to turn Fox into a pay-TV channel. CBS CEO Leslie Moonves has echoed that sentiment.
The broadcast networks and their affiliated TV stations have just won the fight to force cable operators to pay them per-subscriber fees, called retransmission consent fees, just like cable operators do for cable networks. Aereo’s service streams those signals without paying broadcast TV networks or stations any such fee.
Brief Take: Whether or not Aereo lives or dies will come down to the Supreme Court’s decision, out later this year, which will also have ramifications across the TV business as a whole.