The Death of AEREO, and Why I Am Perplexed

AEREO was effectively killed this morning, and with it we the consumers lost out big time. The thing is, I’m rather confused about why there is such an issue with a service I’ve been using for the past few months and absolutely loving. Here’s why I’m perplexed, and why the ruling makes absolutely no sense to me.AEREO is an interesting approach to video. Each of us who has been paying the company a few dollars a month effectively “rents” a small antenna. The legal fiction is that the antenna picks up over the air signals and sends it to me. What actually happens is that, once logged into my account I am able to watch any channel that has an over the air broadcast and save it to the company’s servers if I want to watch it later. The Supreme Court effectively said that they are breaking copyright laws and the work around with the antennas simply doesn’t resolve copyright issues raised by the cable companies.

AEREO

A statement from the company’s founder and CEO (or should I say former company) included the following

Today’s decision by the United States Supreme Court is a massive setback for the American consumer. We’ve said all along that we worked diligently to create a technology that complies with the law, but today’s decision clearly states that how the technology works does not matter. This sends a chilling message to the technology industry. It is troubling that the Court states in its decision that, ‘to the extent commercial actors or other interested entities may be concerned with the relationship between the development and use of such technologies and the Copyright Act, they are of course free to seek action from Congress.’ (Majority, page 17) That begs the question: Are we moving towards a permission-based system for technology innovation?

Consumer access to free-to-air broadcast television is an essential part of our country’s fabric. Using an antenna to access free-to-air broadcast television is still meaningful for more than 60 million Americans across the United States. And when new technology enables consumers to use a smarter, easier to use antenna, consumers and the marketplace win. Free-to-air broadcast television should not be available only to those who can afford to pay for the cable or satellite bundle.

[Emphasis mine]

Here’s why I don’t understand the AEREO ruling, and what my problem with it is.

1. The service only gives me over the air television programs. I’m not able to get premium channels and, in fact, I’m not even able to get basic cable channels. What the company was serving me was exactly the same thing that I can get if I put up an antenna at home. The only difference is that it also function as a DVR. So how is this company’s approach stealing content when over the air television isn’t?

2. I was only able to use the service when I was in my home location. When I’m traveling out of the country, I’m not able to access anything. In fact, when I’m up in the country I’m not able to access the service because it’s not available there. It is exceptionally limited, and it really only works when I’m in my home location.

3. The service wasn’t offering anything I can’t get through another company, and in fact what I can get through those other companies is far, far more disruptive to standard cable television approaches. For example if I purchase a TiVo box, I not only can get over the air TV, but I can also get premium channels. I can record them and watch them at a later time; I can transfer them to a mobile device, or use the latest technology stream to watch when I’m not at home. And yes, I can use the control on my TiVo remote to skip commercials, thereby bypassing the main revenue stream that the company gets.So now it looks like I’ll go back, get a new TiVo box and get a new subscription to TiVo. Yes, I’ll end up paying substantially more than I was, but I’ll also get premium channels, and I will be storing my videos locally rather than on someone else’s server. So what did the cable companies gain today?

By using AEREO, I was effectively grabbing the over the air signal that I could grab on my own, but I was using a service to do it. I was paying that service a fee in order to have the privilege of doing this, and then was able to watch those over the air programs either live or at a later time — but only in a set location. I’m not sure what the issue is here, unless it is the fact that the cable companies are not worried so much about area itself, but rather they are worried about the precedent it sets. Either way, the AEREO decision is a huge loss and something that I am not pleased about.

Update – Email send June 28, 2014:

aereo email

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About the Author

Dan Cohen
Having a father who was heavily involved in early laser and fiber-optical research, Dan grew up surrounded by technology and gadgets. Dan’s father brought home one of the very first video games when he was young and Dan remembers seeing a “pre-release” touchtone phone. (When he asked his father what the “#” and “*” buttons were his dad said, “Some day, far in the future, we’ll have some use for them.”) Technology seemed to be in Dan’s blood but at some point he took a different path and ended up in the clergy. His passion for technology and gadgets never left him. Dan is married to Raina Goldberg who is also an avid user of Apple products. They live in New Jersey with their golden doodle Nava.