Aereo Apparent: Supremes Hear From Fans

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case against over-the-top TV-signal provider Aereo on April 22, and IAC chairman and senior executive Barry Diller, a company backer, has put the matter in perspective: If Aereo has to pay for delivering broadcast signals, “we’re finished.”

Diller spoke as the deadline passed for friends of Aereo to file amicus briefs with the court backing the service, which provides access to TV station signals and DVR functionality over the Internet, but without paying broadcasters.

The Aereo model, which uses a farm of tiny, individual antennas to deliver signals to subscribers, could benefit cable operators in a least a couple of ways. Tired of paying increasing retransmission-consent fees, cable operators could move to an online distribution model and either team up with Aereo or conceivably come up with their own antenna farms and DVR servers.

The American Cable Association was one of a host of “friends” of Aereo that defended the service in briefs to the court last week at almost the same time Aereo founder Chet Kanojia was presenting the service to its members during a speech at the group’s annual Washington Summit.

American Cable Association: The Aereo case is about the right to watch free TV vs. allowing broadcasters to erect another pay wall to what is supposed to be a free service. The ACA, which represents smaller independent MSOs, said its worry is that broadcasters are trying to tip the balance even further away from reliance on advertising and more on retrans fees.

Various law professors: In their amicus brief, the professors called Aereo a “healthy free-market response to a dysfunctional and anti-competitive television distribution system that raises prices, reduces output and denies consumers meaningful choice.”

Computer & Communications Industry Association (comprising Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!) and Mozilla: The group told the Supreme Court that if it finds against Aereo, it would threaten cloud computing. The dramatic expansion of the cloud-computing sector, they said in an amicus brief, “depends upon an interpretation of the Copyright Act that allows adequate breathing room for transmissions of content.”

EchoStar/Dish Network: Aereo is simply a new way to do the same old things, said Charlie Ergen’s EchoStar and Dish Network, namely to “direct individualized antennas to receive free broadcast signals, make individualized copies of desired programming, and view that programming privately and for noncommercial purposes. The only diff erence is that the users do not purchase and maintain the equipment.”

Consumer Federation of America/Consumers Union: The groups said Aereo’s online TV-station delivery technology are “entirely legal, benefit consumers, strengthen broadcast distribution and promote competition.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.