No, A Supreme Court Victory By Aereo Would Not Crush The NFL

The Supreme Court could issue a ruling in the dispute between the broadcast networks and startup streaming service Aereo as early as tomorrow (though it could also not come down for quite some time). And some folks are claiming that a victory by Aereo in the case would be devastating to the NFL. These people are very, very wrong.

A recent Washington Post story claims that, if Aereo wins, “the foundation of the NFL’s television business could crumble” because “a thriving Aereo could help fans bypass the broadcasters, devaluing their expensive contracts with the NFL.”

Except — and stick with me for a moment — none of that last statement is correct.

For those unfamiliar with Aereo, here’s how it works. In each market where the service operates, Aereo has arrays of tiny antennae that pick up the freely available over-the-air network broadcasts, just like the antenna you used to have on the back of your TV, then streams them online to paying users. Each antenna in an array is dedicated to a single end-user who must be in the local broadcast area of the channels she’s trying to watch.

So all it does is give users another way to watch the same programming they would get on their TV. It does not give people in Philadelphia access to Chicago news casts. It does not replace the commercials or in any way edit the broadcasts that are going out over the air.

The Post article also states that the only way to get NFL games online is via an expensive cable or satellite package. That is wrong.

Yes, NFL Sunday Ticket, which gives users access to all out-of-market games is currently a DirecTV exclusive, but only if you want to get it on your TV. For years, DirecTV has sold online-only versions of the Sunday Ticket package for people who can’t get the satellite service. Last year, a premium version of the popular Madden NFL video game was bundled with a subscription to the online Sunday Ticket package, for only about $30 over the retail price of the game.

Additionally, Verizon Wireless subscribers have the ability to access in-market games on their wireless devices.

Aereo does not put the Sunday Ticket deal with DirecTV at risk, as it in no way offers users the ability to watch every out-of-market game. Even if you lie to Aereo about your city and trick the service into, for example, thinking you’re in Chicago when you’re actually in New York, that only gives you access to whatever is on the local Chicago broadcast. There is no flipping around between the broadcast from Green Bay or Seattle.

By the way, that above example wouldn’t currently work because Aereo isn’t even available in Chicago… or Green Bay, or Seattle.

Even if Aereo did eventually expand to cover all possible NFL markets, it still would barely put a ding in Sunday Ticket’s worth to the NFL. Can you imagine the thousands of sports bars who use Sunday Ticket to lure in customers every weekend paying for dozens of different Aereo accounts and then connecting each of their many TVs to computers when it’s much easier, more reliable (and possibly cheaper) to just ante up for Sunday Ticket?

So let’s dissect the Post’s misguided assertions:

1. That Aereo would disrupt NFL deals with the networks
Wrong. The NFL still needs CBS and FOX to carry those Sunday afternoon games. It’s not as if Aereo is somehow tapping into the on-field cameras and creating its own game coverage. The presence of Aereo as a way of transmitting those games to local end-users does nothing to remove the broadcasters from the equation and the networks will still pay huge piles of money to get the ratings. If the networks are smart (which they have never proven themselves to be), they would work with Aereo to get ratings info so that it can count those Aereo watchers in the viewership numbers they give to advertisers.

2. Aereo will harm the NFL’s lucrative pay-TV deals
Wrong again. The service provided by Aereo is in no way a substitute for NFL Sunday Ticket. That premium service gives users access to all out-of-market games, in HD, at the touch of a button, plus things like the RedZone Channel and the ability to splitscreen multiple games at once. All Aereo does is give the user access to the broadcast feeds in his own market.

Of course, if the Supremes come down against Aereo, then this is all a pointless discussion.

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  1. mobafett says:

    The NFL has been shooting itself in the foot by limiting local broadcasts of games only available on cable (i.e. Thursday night games) to a 40-mile radius of each team’s home city. As a fan who’s much farther than 40 miles from my favorite team, but well within their core territory (you know, the same state), it becomes too much trouble to watch those Thurs. night games without a cable subscription. I believe the deal with CBS will change that this season, though I’m not sure of the details.
    I’m sure there will be some people who will find a way to register a billing address within a major city and then use Aereo to watch broadcasts from that city. And why shouldn’t they be able to? Why can’t I watch the local news in Seattle, New York, or Atlanta if I want to? ABC7 in Los Angeles streams their local news on their website. Why don’t more TV stations do this?