Despite broadcaster lawsuits, Aereo just kept pressing on. Now the company, which offers a cloud-based antenna and DVR technologies that is shaking up the television markets in the cities where it’s offered, is expressing dire concerns over its fate in its U.S. Supreme Court battle with broadcasters set for April 22.
“Despite the fact that consumers have long had the right to use an antenna to watch over-the-air television and make recordings for their own personal use, the major broadcasters filed suit against Aereo in New York alleging copyright infringement and sought to prevent Aereo from providing its technology,” Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia said in a blog post. “The broadcasters asked the Court to deny you, the consumer, the ability to use the cloud to access a more modern-day television antenna and DVR.”
Kanojia explained that the injunction has been denied three times in the case against Aereo -- once by a federal district court and twice at the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. With the case headed to the U.S. Supreme Court and oral arguments set for April 22, the company filed its response brief arguing that its innovation is absolutely legal.
“We have every confidence that the Court will validate and preserve a consumer’s right to access local over-the-air television using an individual antenna, make a personal recording with a DVR, and watch that recording on a device of their choice,” Kanojia said. “We think you should be able to decide whether you use home equipment or whether you take advantage of the ease, convenience and lower cost of cloud-based equipment and storage.”
In the blog post, Kanojia described how his company’s technology leverages the power of the Internet to create a “smarter, more sophisticated” over-the-air antenna for the digital world combined with a user-friendly, cloud-based DVR that lets you watch programs from pretty much any Internet-connected device.
Consumers can pause, rewind and fast-forward any program that they are watching live, or save programs for future viewing. Aereo membership starts at $8 a month. That's quite the bargain for what it offers. Right now, Aereo is only available in New York, Boston, Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Miami, Houston and Dallas. But more cities are coming online in the months ahead -- if the company survives the lawsuits against it.
We caught up with Ross Rubin, a principal analyst at Reticle Research, to get his take on the hubbub. He told us the case comes down to whether the court interprets the Aereo service as an unauthorized retransmission of broadcast signals or as a consumer extending his antenna -- on which he has the right to receive the broadcast -- over the Internet. In some ways it may sound like semantics, but it is important for the legal arguments.
“There’s been a lot of rhetoric on both sides about the implications of what the court may decide. Of course, often the court decides in a way that is not wholly in favor of one side or another, so it’s difficult to know what the ultimate implications will be,” Rubin said. “But the fundamental question comes down to is control -- whether broadcasters or consumers have the right to determine how consumers receive their programming.”
Broadcasters want to collect retransmission fees from cable companies for over-the-air content. Aereo is competition on that front. There are alternatives to Aereo that haven’t put broadcasters up in arms. One of them is called Simple TV. The difference may be significant from a legal standpoint in that Simple TV is a device that’s actually in your home.
“Simple TV can also deliver over-the-air content to tablets and smartphones and it can also record shows, just like Aereo,” Rubin said. “But instead of being in the cloud it’s in your home. It’s a bit more like Slingbox so you are just sending it to yourself on your own devices.”