Aereo TV is a useful, innovative service that has taken a lot of heat in the press lately. I’d like to take a moment to dispel a few myths about Aereo’s service and why I think the courts will continue to rule in its favor.
What is Aereo TV you ask? Aereo TV allows users to legally watch and record broadcast television on their computers and tablets for a small monthly fee. They do not pay the networks or have any agreement with them, which is why the media networks are furious.
Here’s why Aereo’s service is innovative and legal: they use a tiny, physical antenna for each subscriber to capture the broadcast just the way you would do if you had an antenna connected directly to your TV. Using antennas to watch TV for free is 100% legal.
Here are a few more points to consider about Aereo and how their service is delivered:
Every few years a new technology comes along that shakes up traditional industries and incites legal wars by not playing according to the “rules.” In these cases, the “rules” do not necessarily equate to the law, but rather to rules and expectations created by the traditional and existing powers that dominate a specific industry. This is evident across the country when we examine the taxi industry. Recent startup, Uber, has shaken old-school taxi cab commissions across the country with their App that summons and pays for private car service. They were careful to follow the written “law” in every market, but because they didn’t ask first or pay the cab commissions, they’ve had to battle in the court and fight for each victory.
Just as with Uber, we find a small startup battling an entrenched, powerful industry. While Aereo was careful to follow the law, they are being forced to battle in the courts just as Uber is doing. To date, Aereo has had favorable rulings in court, that were based on earlier rulings that concerned DVR products. In the 1980′s the Supreme Court ruled that consumers had a “fair use” right under the Copyright Act to record and view private copies of television shows. Without that ruling, DVR would either not exist or we’d have to pay the networks each time we clicked play.
In the latest court ruling, the courts ruled that Aereo was a DVR service and the fact that the Internet is used for transmission is irrelevant. Just as you may purchase a DVR box from Tivo, Aereo has the right to charge for using their cloud based DVR equipment. Just as traditional DVR manufacturers do not pay networks for the signal captured by viewers using an antenna in their home, Aereo should not have to pay just because the user’s antenna is in their facility. Here’s a practical example:
Lets say I have no signal in my basement apartment, but my top floor neighbor receives an excellent signal. I bring my antenna and DVR to his apartment and ask if he will connect it and record my favorite shows. He says “no problem,” but then asks for a few dollars to cover the electricity and his time. Is this legal? Absolutely! This “neighbor” with a good view is exactly what Aereo is doing. They are not “snatching” a signal and then not paying for it, because the original intent of the signal is to be FREE! They are using my personal antenna that I pay for in their facility and recording the shows that I ask them to.
The real fact in this matter is that the television networks need to either do something useful with their spectrum (like Aereo is) or they need to give up over-the-air broadcast television all together and release their spectrum back to the public. A direct over-the-air broadcast is no longer a useful service to the public. With the advent of cable TV and the Internet, quality standards have been raised and “bunny-ear” antennas have become obsolete. The networks know this, but if they can pad viewership numbers for advertisers by claiming x-number of “ghost” viewers watch over-the-air, yet have 99 percent of people view via cable television where they are paid for the content, then it’s a win-win for them. The networks continue to maintain their grip on valuable wireless spectrum, yet they have failed to provide a useful public service in return. Furthermore, they try to halt useful services that use the airwaves effectively–the way Aereo is doing. The networks want to have their cake (cable) and eat it too (hoarding spectrum), which is the true outrage.
If you’re tired of paying your cable company over $100 per month for channels you hardly ever watch, I urge you to give Aereo TV a try. For $8 you get the basic channels, plus Bloomberg television, and 20 hours of DVR. It’s all web based, so there’s no software to install.
If the television networks truly want to provide a free public good, they would support Aereo since it still shows all of their commercials, yet makes the signal relevant and easy to view. Their attempt to halt Aereo is evidence that they really have no desire for people to view shows over-the-air on a wide scale basis. Shame on you network television; either support Aereo or do something innovative with the airwaves yourself. Otherwise, give us the spectrum back!
* Note: I am in no way associated with Aereo TV, simply a happy customer.