The cast of characters fighting Aereo gives you a hint of how important the case that goes before the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday at 11 a.m. ET is to the future of broadcasting.
It is as big as the 1984 Betamax case, which seems like a silly notion now, but wasn’t back then. In that case, the court allowed you to tape record what you see on TV, despite dire warnings from broadcasters that it would ruin them. Now, the court has to consider technology that can deliver live TV programs to your phone, laptop or tablet. And the company that wants to deliver the programs also wants to avoid paying the broadcasters anything for the rights.
All of the TV big networks (ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox) are trying to stop Aereo. TV stations fought long and hard to get cable companies to pay for the content they pass along. Now they are fighting Aereo for the same compensation.
But Aereo says the networks have it all wrong. Aereo says it is just leasing consumers the technology that enables them to watch programs that are free to watch over the air. It is similar to the arguments that cable companies used when they attempted to avoid paying retransmission fees.
Everyone from Viacom and the National Association of Broadcasters to the NFL and Major League Baseball have filed briefs in the case. It is serious enough that if the networks lose this case, they could even start a move to take their programs to pay TV rather than allow them to be free over the air. When lower courts ruled in favor of Aereo, Wall Street reacted by lowering the values of major broadcast company stock. This is serious business.