Aereo Launching Next Week In Austin

Only days after a federal court in Utah issued an injunction halting Aereo service in six states — and a showdown with broadcasters in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on the horizon — streaming video startup Aereo continues to expand, announcing a launch date and channel lineup for TV viewers in Austin.

In a statement released this morning, Aereo — which collects freely available over-the-air network feeds and then streams them online to paying customers — said it will launch service in the Texas capital and the surrounding area on Monday, March 3.

The 12 counties covered by the service will be: Bastrop, Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Fayette, Gillespie, Hays, Lee, Llano, Mason, Travis and Williamson.

An $8/month subscription gives Austin-area users online access to 19 over-the-air channels, including KVUE (ABC), KXAN (NBC), KEYE (CBS), KTBC (Fox), KNVA (CW) and KLRU (PBS); along with other stations like AccuWeather and Spanish-language channels UniMás, UniVision, Telemundo and Estrella TV. That rate includes 20 hours of cloud-based DVR storage. The $12/month subscription increases that limit to 60 hours.

Aereo is at the center of a legal battle with all of the major networks, who allege that the startup is violating their copyright by retransmitting network feeds without permission and without paying a retransmission fee. Cable providers pay billions each year to the networks for the ability to include broadcast stations in their channel lineups.

In response, Aereo maintains that the way it collects and sends the feeds to users is not the same as cable/satellite retransmission. Aereo uses arrays of very small antennae, with each antenna being dedicated to a single end-user. Thus, contends the company, Aereo is no different than when a consumer places a rooftop antenna on her building; the signal is going through the Internet.

Until the Utah court ruling — which stops Aereo from offering service in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Montana — the broadcasters had failed to win an injunction.

Meanwhile, the both sides will make their case before the Supreme Court later this spring. How the court rules could have a huge impact on the TV landscape.

If the Supremes come down on Aereo’s side, some networks have threatened to pull their feeds from the air and will go cable-only. A number of cable operators are already working on Aereo-like technology that would allow them to deliver these stations to customers without having to pay the huge retrans fees.

If the broadcasters win, it could have a huge impact on all cloud-based storage and streaming services. In their appeal to the Supreme Court, the broadcasters attack Aereo’s cloud-based DVR system by arguing that a “public performance” occurs whenever a service provider enables a consumer to transmit the same prior performance of a work, even if the consumer is independently transmitting a separate performance from his own separately acquired recording available to him alone.

In slightly clearer language: Say you use Amazon’s Cloud Player to store your legally purchased MP3s. Taking the broadcasters’ stance would mean that each time you listen to one of those songs without getting permission from the copyright holder, you are violating the law.

The Supreme Court shot down a similar argument in 1984 in the Sony v. Universal Pictures lawsuit over Sony’s Betamax VCRs. But the court elected not to hear a more recent case involving copyright concerns over Cablevision’s cloud-based DVR. So while there is a 2008 Second Circuit court ruling that came down on the side of cloud-based technology, there is still no definitive opinion from the nation’s highest court.

Of course, the broadcasters could just make their feeds available live online. Doing so would remove a good chunk of the reason or people to sign up for Aereo. ABC currently streams chunks of its TV broadcast online in real-time, but in order to access it you must demonstrate that you are a subscriber to a participating cable provider; thus making the stream inaccessible to cord-cutters who want to avoid paying for cable service.

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