The National Football League and Major League Baseball have joined broadcast television networks in the legal fight against Aereo, the company that uses a data center full of tiny antennas to bring customers live and recorded streams of broadcast television for a monthly fee. The NFL and MLB filed statements with the Supreme Court last week, arguing that a victory for Aereo would mean the end of free football and baseball on television.
The leagues said Aereo would take away the “exclusive retransmission licensing rights and the substantial benefits from those rights,” making broadcast television a “less attractive” medium for broadcasting NFL and MLB games. The NFL and MLB also threatened that they would have to move their content to cable networks that are protected from Aereo.
Cable and satellite networks pay billions of dollars to broadcast networks for the right to retransmit content to paying subscribers, and another $300 million of so in licensing fees. The NFL and MLB said they take about $100 million of the licensing fees and also have an interest in the retransmission fees.
The NFL and MLB also argued that Aereo could violate international treaties regarding the retransmission of broadcast signals over the Internet, and that it could permit Aereo to create packages of sports programming without the consent of the leagues.
The leagues asked for the Supreme Court to provide clarity to the situation, and accused Aereo of stripping networks of their licensing rights through “technological chicanery.”
Aereo’s antennas capture channels like ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox that are broadcast for free and put them on the Internet for Aereo subscribers to watch on their computers, mobile devices or connected TVs. It also allows users to save content and watch it later like a DVR.
Federal courts have already ruled that Aereo does not violate copyright laws, and more recently decided that Aereo just enables customers to do what they could already do on their own with a traditional antenna.
After the rulings in Aereo’s favor, the big four networks filed petitions with the Supreme Court to hear the case. The statements from the NFL (which splits Sunday afternoon games between CBS and Fox and gives the weekly Sunday night game to NBC) and MLB (which gives Fox the “game of the week” on Saturdays) could provide the support necessary to get the case to the Supreme Court.