In recent months, leaders from FOX have been actively considering halting broadcasting and serving only pay-TV subscribers. CBS is also researching the switch to cable, with CEO Leslie Moonves commenting, "We’ve spoken to cable operators in New York. We can do it in a few days." What is causing all of this commotion? Aereo.
Aereo allows users to watch live or time-shifted streams of over-the-air television on internet-connected devices. Though the system is currently only available in New York City, it is expanding to Boston this month and to over 20 other cities in the United States by the end of 2013. Their website breaks down the basics of the system in three easy steps:
1. They made the TV antenna so small that it fits on the tip of your finger, but still gets quality HD reception.
2. They connected the antennas to the internet via data centers tied to massive amounts of storage and high-speed internet connections.
3. They give the consumer the ability to control their antenna through the internet with any internet-connected device they choose.
As you might imagine, this is extremely threatening to television networks. In order to protect the billions of dollars networks spend annually on programs and receive from advertisers, networks are considering a switch to pay services to protect their product from being retransmitted without permission.
Legislation has been brought against Aereo multiple times in the past. The networks initially sued Aereo in March of 2012 with claims of theft and piracy; That the system infringed copyrights through the capture of over-the-air signals and providing them at a cost to subscribers. The most recent reactions from networks were in response to a U.S. court of appeals ruling on April 1st which allowed Aereo to continue operating. Though networks have not yet been able to win in the courts, broadcast executives continue to believe they can find a way to emerge victorious. In the meantime, they continue to evaluate their options, including switching to cable distribution.
The networks most recent appeal was submitted on April 15th, again asking the courts to reconsider their decision to allow Aereo to proceed with its business. In the filing, broadcasters claim that Aereo's existence, "threatens to cause massive disruption to the television industry, and will adversely impact the public's access to the quality and diversity of programming." While the networks continue to fight, Aereo continues to raise new funding and expand into new markets. We'll continue watching.