Technology

Roundup: Where Industry Groups Stand on the Aereo Case

Roughly two weeks away from arguments in the anticipated Supreme Court case, industry groups from across the spectrum have wildly differing opinions on the validity of Aereo's model, but most agree the results could have a big impact.

Roughly two weeks before arguments in the anticipated Supreme Court case, industry groups from across the spectrum have registered wildly differing opinions on the validity of Aereo’s model. One point of agreement: The outcome is like to have a big impact on how TV programming reaches consumers.

It may be the most closely watched Supreme Court case involving technology in a generation. And at the center is a device that threatens to upend the way broadcast television works.

A lot is at stake for both Aereo, a startup that uses tiny antennas to offer customers time-shifted TV programs via the internet, and the broadcast industry when the high court hears oral arguments in American Broadcasting Companies v. Aereo on April 22. In  a flurry of amicus briefs filed with the court, industry and advocacy groups on both sides are seeking to sway the justices ahead of the big day. A quick roundup:

Broadcasters

One of the loudest voices opposing Aereo’s business model is the National Association of Broadcasters. In a March amicus brief to the Supreme Court [PDF], NAB argued that the financial burden of distributing content rests on its members’ shoulders, while Aereo pays nothing.

“Like broadcasters, Aereo transmits programming to the public,” NAB stated in the brief. “But unlike broadcasters, it pays nothing for that programming and has no duty to serve the public.”

The federal government has sided with NAB, but not every broadcaster shares the association’s view on the issue. In their own amicus brief, a number of small and independent broadcasters supported Aereo,  citing the experience of WKRP in Cincinnati (yes, just like the TV show), “which began actively promoting the use of Aereo to expand viewership and increase interest among viewers who were otherwise unable to receive WKRP’s signal clearly.”

Tech Organizations

The Consumer Electronics Association, in particular, has become one of Aereo’s biggest advocates, joining in an amicus brief with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other advocacy groups [PDF], as well as sending out a pin-pricking email ahead of this week’s NAB Show 2014. The top item on the CEA’s list of “four storylines to follow” at the conference was a question referencing the case: “Are the big networks really that concerned about a tiny innovator like Aereo?”

The Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) also filed a brief, joined by Mozilla Corporation, supporting Aereo [PDF]. They raised concerns about “unintended consequences” of a decision in favor of the broadcasters for other products and services that involve transmitting content, including cloud computing. BSA, The Software Alliance expressed similar fears [PDF], though it chose not to side with either party.

Telecom Groups

Cable and satellite providers such as Cablevision (which was involved in a case that paved the way for Aereo’s business model) and DISH Network tended to support Aereo. The American Cable Association, for one, noted that the company’s model does not directly compete with that of the cable industry and could actually complement it.

“Aereo simply adds one more option from which the intended broadcast audience may choose for tuning in and time-shifting,” ACA stated in its brief.

Joining with the Center for Democracy & Technology, however, several other telecom groups, including CTIA: The Wireless Association and the United States Telecom Association, chose not to side with either party. They argued that the basic tenets of cloud computing require that it not be seen as a public broadcasting medium but a private one.

(Aereo press photo)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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