Locast TV Station Streaming Service Expands to D.C., Baltimore

Just in time for the Super Bowl, online TV station streaming service Locast is announcing its expansion to two new markets--Washington and nearby Baltimore--as it expands its effort to provide free over-the-internet versions of over-the-air TV stations, a model that continues to expand in major markets unchecked by any pushback from broadcasters or TV studios or sports leagues that like to control distribution of their content.

That new Capital connection will put the service in front of lawmakers who hear it from constituents during retrans impasses, particularly ones that happen during must-have sports--football, baseball--playoffs.

In fact, recently, Charter was talking up Locast to its subscribers impacted by retransmission consent impasses. The cable operator told its Spectrum subscribers about the service in markets where Tribune Broadcasting stations had been blacked out and Locast is available, including New York, Houston, Dallas and Denver, before the parties reached a new retrans pact on Friday (Jan. 11).

“Locast is bringing the public mission of free, local broadcast to a new generation of cord-cutters and Internet-only video consumers," said David Goodfriend, chairman of the Sports Fans Coalition, which is behind the no-cost Locast effort. "With the addition of Washington, D.C, and Baltimore, Locast has now provided almost a third of U.S. television households with a way to watch local broadcast TV, even if you do not subscribe to pay-TV or cannot receive an over-the-air signal.”

Locast launched last January in New York, then added Houston and Dallas, Denver, Chicago, Boston and Philly. 

With New York and Chicago online, when will L.A. be joining the fold? "When we raise the funds, we want to launch," said Goodfriend.

To stream the TV signals without payment or permission--though Goodfriend says some independents have sought him out for carriage and provided help--Locast.org (a contraction of “local” and “broadcast”) is relying on Title 17, Chapter 1, section 111 a)5 of the Copyright Act — which, for those without a copy handy, covers exemptions from exclusive rights to broadcast transmissions. It grants that exemption if “the secondary transmission is not made by a cable system, but is made by a governmental body, or other nonprofit organization, without any purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage, and without charge to the recipients of the secondary transmission other than assessments necessary to defray the actual and reasonable costs of maintaining and operating the secondary transmission service.”

That is the same provision under which TV translators already boost broadcast signals, Goodfriend pointed out when the service launched, saying it should not matter what the technology is. They are a nonprofit taking a broadcast signal and retransmitting it, period, he says.

Locast asks for a donation to help defray expenses, which it says squares with the law, but it can't turn a profit or charge a sub fee.

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.