A Startup, the Supreme Court, and the Future of TV [telecom]

By Michael Phillips, The New Yorker Blog, January 15, 2014

| Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal by | America's largest broadcast television networks -- CBS, NBC, Fox, | ABC, PBS, and others -- against Aereo, a startup backed by the | media mogul Barry Diller that makes broadcast television available | over the Internet for a low monthly fee. It sounds dramatic, but | the case, American Broadcasting Companies, Inc., et al. v. Aereo, | Inc., may determine the future of television. | | Although it conjures images of rabbit-ear antennas sitting on a | dusty, boxy TV, over-the-air broadcast television is no relic; | millions of Americans still rely on it. Local television stations, | like WNBC New York, are allowed to transmit programming over | valuable public airwaves on the condition that the signals are free | for the public to pick up with an antenna. Aereo has built large | antenna arrays, comprising thousands of dime-sized, adorable | antennae, in order to capture those signals. Each antenna receives, | and transmits over the Internet, the signal for a single Aereo | subscriber, who can then watch live over-the-air broadcast | television -- or record it with cloud storage, which Aereo | provides, to view later -- on a computer, tablet, or smartphone.


| Paradoxically, Aereo's case may endanger the public spectrum that | the company claims to be defending. As Aereo put it in its petition | brief before the Supreme Court, "The essential bargain that [the | industry] made to obtain, for free, public spectrum worth billions | of dollars was that, once they have broadcast their programming, | consumers have a right to receive and to view that programming | using an antenna and to copy that programming for their personal | use." For advocates of the public commons, who think that the | airwaves should be as free for the public as the sun's rays, that | is true enough. Whether Aereo can simultaneously champion the | public airwaves and profit handsomely from them is now a question | for the Supreme Court.


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The last paragraph of this post (reproduced above after the snip) encapsulates the core issue at stake here. I've been following the Aereo case carefully, and I have found no other article that summarizes this core issue so precisely.

Neal McLain

Reply to
Neal McLain
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That paragraph might (was the pun intended?) encapsulate Aereo's position, but it is not a summation of the core issue.

There are, sad to say, several "core" issues here:

  1. TV Network Executives are throwing a decades-long hissy fit because their stranglehold on the world-view of the "average" American has been slipping away since cable tv became a competitor in the late sixties, and they miss those thrilling days of yesteryear when Americans could be depended on to buy lots and lots of new and improved soap and racism and chrome bumpers and guns and simple answers and alcohol and ignore-that-man-behind-the-curtain double standards, along with a militaristic world view and the notion that the tall white guy should make all the decisions.
  2. No politician worth note has the courage to stand up to the media and tell it to report the news instead of selling soap, even though the TV airwaves are being "rented" at fire-sale prices: those airwaves /are/ worth billions (although that is a recent change), and networks are /not/ being taxed at anything even close to the rates being applied to cellular and other mobile carriers.
  3. Television executives were caught flat-footed and now look like the short-sighted, out-of-date fools everyone knows them to be, so they're crying "no fair!" and running to their mommies in Washington to get the rules changed again. They are flush with cash from Hulu and other mobile content providers, and also dreaming of the day when the pesky know-it-alls of the print world finally watch their presses grind to a halt, so they /assumed/ that they would be approached by fawning cable-tv-lookalikes who would throw money at them for the privilege of re-re-re-broadcasting re-re-reruns of Tonto playing the fool and selling soap, truth, soap, justice, soap, and the American way.

Aereo didn't bother to throw money at the old-guard of television, knowing full-well that it is caught between the easy income of can't-afford-cable inner-city viewers and the easier profits of you-scratch-my-backside-and-I'll-hide-the-video-I-have-of-yours political influence, and that's what has those same owners scared out of their wits and willing to trade millions in lawyers' fees for a slight delay in their inevitable senescence. Ergo, we get to (pun intended) tune in to watch a desperate plea to preserve the media dinosaurs' dynasty.


Reply to
Bill Horne

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