Let’s see Big Media try to sue its way out of this one.
Aereo, the online-TV service reviled by the broadcast establishment, is rapidly expanding. The New York-based startup, which offers live and time-shifted television over the Internet, announced on Tuesday that it will soon be available in the Atlanta metropolitan area -- a move that will make it accessible to more than 5.3 million consumers in 55 counties across Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina, the company said on Tuesday.
The announcement follows Aereo’s expansion to Boston, which is slated to take effect on Wednesday. The new expansion will allow Atlanta-area Aereo subscribers to access 27 over-the-air stations via Aereo’s cloud-based antenna and DVR technology -- including local NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox affiliates. The move follows a so-far fruitless lawsuit by the corporate parents of those broadcasters: Comcast Corp. (NASDAQ:CMCSA), CBS Corp. (NYSE:CBS), the Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS) and News Corp. (NASDAQ:NWSA), respectively.
In March 2012, the media giants collectively sued Aereo Inc., claiming that the online-TV technology, which captures and transmits over-the-air signals, violates their copyrights. The companies argued that Aereo’s transmission of TV broadcasts to computers and mobile devices constitutes "live performance," which is subject to licensing fees.
The courts aren’t buying it, however. In July 2012, a federal judge in the Second District denied the broadcasters’ request for a preliminary injunction against Aereo. In light of that ruling, Aereo this month requested a judgment without trial, as Bloomberg Businessweek reported on Wednesday. Such an action would effectively stop the litigation in its tracks.
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CBS chief Les Moonves and News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch have been among Aereo’s most vocal critics, threatening to turn their networks into a cable channels if Aereo isn’t shut down. In a reversal, Aereo sued CBS to prevent further litigation, arguing that future lawsuits would be a waste of judicial recourses, as the Wall Street Journal reported.
In a statement, Dana McClintock, a spokesperson for CBS said, “These public relations and legal maneuvers do not change the fundamentally illegal nature of Aereo's supposed business.”
While public airways are technically a free resource, the vast majority of the viewing public gets its television through cable companies, which must pay retransmission fees to broadcast networks. Despite intermittent spouts of cord-cutting, cable’s status-quo model has been largely unchallenged for decades, proving resilient against online disruptions from YouTube to Hulu to Netflix.
That broadcasters have been so aggressive in trying to prevent an Aereo craze from ever happening speaks volumes about its potential as a game changer. And yet Big Media’s litigation-happy strategy reeks of the failed tactics employed by the music and movie industries, both of which tried to sue technological change into oblivion.
ABC, at least, seems to be taking a cue from history. On Monday, the network launched new app that allows live streaming of its content, becoming the first broadcaster to offer live TV in its iOS app.
Aereo, meanwhile, will be available to pre-registered Atlanta-area subscribers on June 17, with general membership access starting June 24. Let the game-changing begin.