NFL, MLB Say They’ll Take Their Balls To Basic Cable If Aereo Wins In Court

CBS and FOX executives have already made the bold declaration that they will take their networks off the air and go cable-only if they are unsuccessful in their bid to crush streaming video service Aereo. Now two pro sports leagues have said they will leave the airwaves if Aereo can profit off of them without sharing.

Here’s the background for those late to the game: Aereo is a startup streaming service — currently only available in a handful of markets — that uses arrays of incredibly small antennae to capture networks’ over-the-air signals, sending them over the Internet to paying subscribers’ computers and wireless devices. Aereo claims that it does not need to pay retransmission fees to the networks because each individual antenna it uses is dedicated to a single subscriber. Thus, contends the company, it’s doing nothing more than providing subscribers’ with the equivalent of a rooftop antenna that picks up freely available network feeds.

The networks obviously disagree, calling it thievery and a violation of copyright. In each region Aereo has launched, it’s been sued in federal court, but so far the networks have been unable to convince any of the courts to issue a preliminary injunction stopping Aereo from offering service. The case seems destined to be heard by the Supreme Court.

Last week, Major League Baseball and the National Football League filed a brief with the Supremes to support the networks’ side of the case. The leagues claim that if Aereo wins in court, they will have to take their programming to basic cable.

“If copyright holders lose their exclusive retransmission licensing rights and the substantial benefits derived from those rights when they place programming on broadcast stations, those stations will become less attractive mediums for distributing copyrighted content,” reads the brief. “The option for copyright holders will be to move that content to paid cable networks (such as ESPN and TNT) where Aereo-like services cannot hijack and exploit their programming without authorization.”

The big risk, claim the leagues, is the precedent that an Aereo victory would send. As we recently wrote, several cable operators — DirecTV, Time Warner Cable, Charter, among others — are currently developing their own Aereo-like technologies in the hopes of getting around the billions of dollars in retransmission fees paid to broadcasters each year. That would mean less money in the leagues’ coffers.

One specious argument made by the NFL states that Aereo or some similar service could create an NFL Sunday Ticket-like package simply by taking in all the various network feeds of live games and sending them on to subscribers without paying the league a dime. There’s a huge problem with that claim. Aereo’s success in the courtroom thus far has been tied to its one-antenna/one-subscriber setup, and the fact that this antenna is pulling in over-the-air feeds and providing them to a subscriber in the specific broadcast area they live in. Unless Aereo has developed a teeny antenna that can somehow gather every broadcast signal from Seattle to Miami, the described situation just isn’t going to happen.

We’ll have to wait and see if the NFL is trying to bluff about pulling its feeds from over-the-air broadcasts, as doing so could risk angering fans and significantly lowering its TV audience.

We don’t know why MLB is complaining so much about Aereo. In many markets, most MLB games are already on basic cable channels (often ones operated by huge broadcast and/or cable operators like Comcast and FOX), and even the majority of postseason baseball is now on TBS instead of the networks.

NFL, MLB To Supremes: If Aereo Wins, Broadcasters Lose [Multichannel.com via DSL Reports]

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  1. SuperSpeedBump says:

    According to the National Association of Broadcasters, over 54 Million Americans receive their TV programming via Free Over-the-Air Antenna TV. https://www.nab.org/documents/newsroom/pressRelease.asp?id=2761 I have a hard time believing that any TV network would be stupid enough to drop even 25% of those viewers and become cable only. It would devalue their ad time way more than a small number of customers (less than 1%) taking advantage of a legal loophole.

    This all comes down to 1 thing. The Aereo service helps to legally overcome some of the key problems with Over-the-Air TV in a modern world, and the networks are behaving like rich babies and want more money. Poor signal in your area, no problem. DVR’s too complicated and expensive, solved. Wanna watch legally recorded TV on any device you own without limits, Aereo’s got you covered.

    I’m sorry broadcasters… what Aereo’s doing is not illegal.

    • BenythTX says:

      Agree. I live a far way from our DMA’s broadcast antennas and would need a large rooftop antenna to receive the over-the-air signal. Aereo would solve that problem for me by renting me an antenna close to the source.

      I’ve never understood the need to PAY for broadcast TV that I should be getting FREE. The broadcasters got their spectrum for FREE in exchange for the requirement to provide the signal for FREE to the consumer. They entered into this deal, now they want to change the rules.

    • CommonC3nts says:

      All Aereo does is lease an indivual antenna so you dont have to buy an antenna to put on your roof and give you a long cord. Then Aereo also leases a DVR for you to use on a very long cord.
      Aereo is not changing anything except giving you better antenna placement without having to buy and install your own antenna.

  2. Naskarrkid says:

    I don’t see the problem with Aereo. The only difference between Aereo and plain old rabbit ears is, with Aereo, you don’t have to stay home or in the living room to watch your favorite local channels. It’s the same as me setting up my VCR to record a show, and watching it later.

  3. GoldHillDave says:

    I have to say I’ve never understood the retransmission fees. This is a signal that’s out there on the airwaves, the public airwaves I might add, for free. Why does any entity have to pay to spread it farther? And why isn’t the broadcaster in question happy that his signal reaches more viewers and thus makes his ads more valuable?

  4. PhillyDom says:

    MLB’s alleged concerns with Aereo stem from local TV contracts. For instance, in Philadelphia, the Phillies have a contract with over-the-air station WPHL-TV to broadcast some games (44 in 2013). This is separate from their deal with basic cable network Comcast SportsNet and the national deals mentioned above.

    • CommonC3nts says:

      Aereo has not changed anything to give them a concern.
      All they do is a lease an antenna on a very long cord.

      People already retransmit their TV over the internet using their computer or slingbox and so did the MLB try to stop slingbox or computer TV card manfuctures??
      Aereo is doing nothing special, just leasing an antenna.

  5. CommonC3nts says:

    Um…. if they are against OTA then why do they broadcast on OTA now???
    Aereo leasing antennas does not change OTA.
    I dont get their hissy fit over leasing antennas??

    If they dont like OTA then they should pull out now, I just dont see what it has to do with Aereo.

  6. C0Y0TY says:

    Good. I hate TV sports. Nasty things, interfering with the evening news and other programming.

  7. EducationalGeek says:

    Here’s the issue….The major sports and the networks have been moving this route already for years. It’s what led to the creation of regional sports networks on cable/satellite. Less and less free OTA sports unless you count Figure Skating have been on OTA signals and this will only continue. I applaud what Aereo is doing, I have been with them since they went beta in my area. I live far enough away from our local broadcasting towers that even with an OTA antenna on my two story house, reception is iffy at best. Aereo fills that gap. Now mind you, I cut the cord 2 years ago and have not looked back. Any sports I watch…..mainly hockey….are done through XBMC and one of the sports stream plugins.

  8. limbo says:

    I’d be more than happy to see NFL and MLB go off the public airwaves. And then we can follow suit by ending all subsidization of the two leagues, revoking their tax exempt status, and ceasing paying for their stadiums.

    Win/win!