Broadcast networks may still be celebrating last month's big win where the Supreme Court sided with them in a dispute with online TV service Aereo. But even though the court's decision put a stop to Aereo rebroadcasting network TV content without paying for it — and knocked Aereo out of commission, at least temporarily — don't expect ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC to spend too time much popping corks. They likely know that winning a battle is not the same as winning the war, and the war for consumer eyeballs between traditional and online TV is just getting started.
Like Al Capone, Aereo lost on a technicality. The notorious gangster wasn't sent to prison eight decades ago for bootlegging booze and killing people; instead, he went to jail for tax evasion — and only after he wrote the IRS and volunteered to pay back taxes on his previously undeclared criminal income. (Sometimes honesty is not the best policy.)
In that same vein, Aereo didn't lose at the Supreme Court because it was an online TV service; rather, Aereo lost because the court focused on what it was transmitting — someone else's content — not how it was transmitting it.
"Aereo picked a large and established commercial group to pick a fight with, and however clever their technical wordplay, the basic fact is that they are using someone else's content to drive value with no legal permission to do so," said Dom Robinson, a media analyst and co-founder at London-based media workflow software maker id3as. "For this fundamental reason, the courts are protecting the rights holders and have ruled against Aereo, and will continue to rule against other groups like them who derive revenue from their own models using illegal redistribution of content as the core value proposition."
Ironically, Aereo is now trying to regroup by telling anyone who will listen that it is, in fact, a cable TV company like Comcast and Time Warner, and thus deserves the same access to broadcast programming — which Aereo is now willing to pay for. Before its Supreme Court loss, Aereo said it wasn't a cable company at all, which is why it didn't need to pay fees to broadcast networks.
Whatever happens to Aereo going forward, its approach of capturing and recording over-the-air TV programming for streaming over the Web is but one model for online TV providers. Thus, concluding that the fall of Aereo is a setback for online TV is like worrying that a lack of new Pontiacs will somehow cripple the automotive industry. It won't.
"The legal broadcasters have indeed won a battle," said Robinson, adding that "as anyone with 20 minutes online to spare will highlight, there are not just a few similar models [of online TV in use], but thousands."
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