After months of skirting a litany of injunctions filed by local and national broadcasters, it looks like the final judgement as to whether Aereo can continue its services may be decided by the Supreme Court after all. The company, which has created a huge stir in the entertainment industry by broadcasting network content over the Internet without paying re-transmission fees, has endured an onslaught of lawsuits that finally came to a head Friday, as Aereo was named in a petition to the highest court in the US. The lawsuit was filed by some of the biggest players in the industry including Fox, CBS, Disney, Univision, NBC Universal, and even cardigan sweater-supporting, non-profit PBS. (That ‘P’ still stands for PUBLIC, right?)
If you’re late to the Aereo party, the company operates by renting tiny antennae to its customers, who pay a fee starting at $8 a month for the ability to watch network TV broadcasts over the Internet at their leisure. However, since its founding in February 2012, Aereo has been in hot water with broadcasters, which claim the service’s laissez-faire approach creates “irreparable damage” to their content by threatening licensing deals with companies like Hulu and iTunes, as well as satellite and cable companies, all of which pay billions of dollars in yearly fees for the right to air their content.
Reported by Deadline, Friday’s petition claims that satellite and cable companies are already using Aereo’s model “…as a roadmap to re-engineering their own delivery systems,” looking for new ways to circumvent re-transmission fees, which would seriously threaten that billion dollar revenue stream. The broadcasters also pointed out in the petition that Aereo has spawned copycat companies like FilmOn, potentially spawning a multitude of alternatives that would threaten the current model.
The fact that PBS has entered the fray with its extremely for-profit counterparts on several occasions, including the Supreme Court battle royal, underscores just how dangerous Aereo’s service is perceived to be to the livelihood of traditional television. And Bloomberg news even pointed to take-my-ball-and-go-home quotes from chief executives at Fox, CBS, and NBC, all of whom have threatened an exodus from over-air broadcasting altogether if Aereo is allowed to continue.
For its part, Aereo continues to maintain that it has done nothing wrong, repeating its claims that its practices amount to nothing more than a legal private performance, providing antenna based content which is protected by the law in the same way as broadcasts to standard antennae.
Whether or not the Supreme Court will take up the suit remains to be seen, but with so many industry big wigs signing on, as well as a growing list of conflicting court decisions from coast to coast, it seems the court may have no choice.