Network TV Streaming
Retransmission fees make up a significant portion of the revenue made by TV networks, which is why attempts to rebroadcast television signals over the internet are often met with lawsuits.
A startup called Locast would welcome such a lawsuit, however, as the company claims it is operating fully within the law. A suit by major broadcasters could serve to prove its case.
What Locast Does
Using 4-foot antennas, Locast grabs over-the-air transmissions of local TV stations that are broadcast in digital quality all across the nation. This includes broadcasts from major networks including Fox TV, CBS, NBC and ABC. These signals are then retransmitted over the internet as a streaming TV signal, letting viewers watch live content from these networks using Locast’s free TV app. This is all done without paying the usual retransmission fees that the FCC typically requires for companies that wish to broadcast programming released by the networks.
Locast claims that it can legally do this because it is not a for-profit company; according to the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, non-profit organizations may be exempt from retransmission fees as they are seen as providing a public service by extending the reach of television signals.
While the law was written with over-the-air broadcast relay stations in mind, it does not actually specify the technology or method that must be used to extend the signal. This means that a digital stream to a free TV app still legally qualifies so long as Locast isn’t profiting off of its services.
Locast Is No Aereo
This is similar in some ways to Aereo, a company that also rebroadcast over-the-air television signals over the internet before network lawsuits forced it into bankruptcy in 2012. There are also significant differences between the two companies, however, as Aereo was a for-profit subscription service that leased antennas and DVR units to capture TV signals for subscribers. Aereo was sued by the networks, and the U.S. Supreme Court eventually ruled against the company and found it in breach of the networks’ copyrights.
Locast does not operate as a subscription service, with its only income coming from donations. Founder David Goodfriend is an attorney and a former media executive who at one point worked for the FCC itself and claims that the company “really did our homework” when determining how to operate the service within the letter of the law. Learning from Aereo’s downfall, he has done everything within his power to keep Locast from suffering the same fate.
Can Locast Survive?
Aereo was only in operation for two years before it had to suspend its service and file for bankruptcy. Locast is still in its first year of operation, but so far it has not received a single legal challenge. While the networks are aware of the service, its legal status as a nonprofit and the care it takes to only broadcast within the regional boundaries where it has physical antennas erected makes it a very difficult target for the networks to touch.
While networks may ultimately prevail in a lawsuit thanks to the deep pockets they have for legal fees, it’s entirely possible that the public will never find out. Some experts believe that the damage of a potential loss for the networks heavily outweighs the benefits of a win, so the networks may choose to simply ignore Locast instead.