“It’s a bit of a coin flip.”
So said Chet Kanojia, the man behind this blog’s favorite Internet startup, Aereo. The words were uttered to New York Times media correspondent extraordinaire, David Carr, recently, and they were published in a Sunday piece profiling …
… The Supreme Court case that is about to jump off the diving board and into the pool of television revolution after months and months of anticipation.
That’s right, friends: It’s finally time for American Broadcasting Companies v. Aereo.
“It will be up to the court to decide whether the service is a consumer-friendly reskinning of the broadcast universe or just one more example of an Internet pirate trying to loot copyrighted content,” Carr wrote. “In some senses, the case is as big of a deal as the Betamax ruling in 1984, which allowed consumers to record programming. … The entertainment industry hated the Betamax decision and said it would lead to ruin — it didn’t — and the networks are just as opposed to a federal appeals court ruling last year to let what they see as Aereo’s chronic, classic infringement continue.”
Kanojia says his case is the Betamax of this century. Everyone else says Aereo should just shut up and stop being so darn pesky. A tiny group of humans will decide who’s right. And there before the grace of God go they.
Joshua Brustein, of Bloomberg Businessweek, gave us a list of reasons why we shouldn’t believe in Aereo a few hours ago (irony: Guess what happens if the broadcasters figure out how to pull their content from Aereo. Give up? The only live channel it will offer is Bloomberg news). I won’t copy them here — you’ll have to click over to see for yourself — but I will say this: He has some good points. Here’s a taste …
“Aereo may not be strong enough to compete,” he noted. “The startup currently offers service in 11 cities, with plans to ramp up significantly once the legal ambiguity clears. To that end, it has raised about $100 million in investment. But there are signs Aereo is straining to serve its customers. It ran out of capacity in New York earlier this year and had to temporarily stop accepting new subscribers. The company declined at the time to disclose its local subscriber numbers, and so it remains unclear how much demand it took to overwhelm the system.”
There are graphs. And charts. And a whole bunch of interesting stuff. So, check it out. Digest it. And then click back over this way.
You back? Good.
I hate to sound like a broken dead horse here (note the combination of cliches), but if David Carr suggests the same thing, I can’t be too crazy, right? Right. So, here we go again: For every VCR, there was a Betamax. For every iTunes, there was a Napster. And for every Funyun, there was a Ruffle. Even if Aereo waltzes into that courtroom a few dozen miles down the road and gets its A kicked in (get it?!), this entire exercise is a win for the Internet TV medium.
A) It brings to the mainstream the notion that people can indeed consume television on a regular basis without the help of a cable package.
B) It questions the current rules by which television programming is distributed in the modern day and as we should all know by now, once people have questions for this kind of stuff, the answers typically mean change, be it tiny or gigantic.
C) Somebody is going to figure this out. If nothing else, this Little Case That Could should be a clear indicator of how far the thinking has traveled, how limitless the ceiling truly is. Be it Apple or Google or Amazon or Netflix or whatever, Aereo’s success and subsequent problem-causing proves that a sturdy business model is probably already devised somewhere, by someone.
And D) THIS IS THE SUPREME COURT. Again, note the big letters: THIS IS THE SUPREME COURT. You can’t go higher than this. And up until this point (for the most part), Aereo has walked away victorious from every fight. The repercussions of this decision are going to send waves through an entire industry, no matter which way the decision leans.
Which leads me to this: We all remember Les Moonves, right? The CBS Head Dude who came out a little while ago and said that even if Aereo wins this battle, the broadcast networks could pull their product altogether, pack up the van, and move to Cable Land. If that happens, as Carr himself wrote, things could get bloody …
“There are over 200 local broadcast affiliates, all of which depend on networks for a share of revenue and much of their programming. Local news, which is part of their mandate as public broadcasters, might wither, and as existing contracts expired, there would be a brawl for lucrative local advertising. Companies that own large groups of local stations like the Tribune Company and the Sinclair Broadcast Group would suddenly find themselves in possession of a much diminished collection of assets.”
And boom goes the dynamite.
It’s the heavyweight title fight boxing hasn’t seen in decades. And it kicks off tomorrow. Grab some popcorn, crack a beer and take a seat. This thing has potential to last far longer than 12 rounds and at stake is a purse so valuable, it would make even Don King blush.