The seemingly never-ending battle over Aereo, the online streaming provider, took a step towards getting ugly last week. In April, broadcasters failed in an attempt to shut down the service. After that failure, News Corp COO Chase Carey said that the corporation could simply shift Fox to a cable network to avoid Aereo. In response to that, John McCain introduced a-la-carte cable legislation in the Senate, which was designed to combat any providers that attempted to pull programming to combat Aereo.
Now, the sports leagues are getting involved with the situation. The NFL and MLB argued in court that Aereo would force them to shift the World Series, Super Bowl, and their regular seasons to cable television. Via Broadcasting & Cable:
"If copyright holders lose their exclusive retransmission licensing rights and the substantial benefits derived from those rights when they place programming on broadcast stations, those stations will become less attractive mediums for distributing copyrighted content," they wrote to the court. "The option for copyright holders will be to move that content to paid cable networks (such as ESPN and TNT) where Aereo-like services cannot hijack and exploit their programming without authorization."
We've already seen the continuing shift to cable by the major sports leagues. Monday Night Football ended a 36 season run on broadcast TV in 2005, shifting to ESPN for the 2006 season. NFL Network's Thursday Night Football package has expanded from eight to 13 games, and could expand further. ESPN will be airing one of the Wild Card playoff games starting next season. MLB aired more Postseason games on cable than on broadcast, including the entire Division Series and NLCS. They only air one regular season game per week on broadcast, and that will be changing to an unknown degree starting next year. College basketball is also shifting towards cable, and the National Semifinals of the NCAA Tournament will be airing exclusively on cable this April as opposed to CBS.
The major exception of course, is the NFL's regular season. While two games each week air on cable, those are the *only* two games that air on cable - a maximum of 14 other games air on broadcast networks, including NBC's Sunday Night Football. The NFL is arguing against Aereo because they fear the provider could eventually launch its own version of Sunday Ticket, offering multiple feeds for CBS and Fox so you can watch whatever game you want, as opposed to the one designated by your affiliate. Currently, Aereo only allows you to watch your local affiliate feeds, but that's not stopping the NFL from arguing against what could happen in the future.
This is definitely something to keep an eye on. The last bastion of regular live sports on broadcast television is the NFL, and the networks would be devastated if the league and their 20 million viewers moved on to greener pastures. The NFL is locked in to its current partners through 2021, and a shift to cable likely wouldn't end up happening until after these current contracts are completed. But money talks, and if the NFL feels that Aereo is costing them money, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see them make a potentially drastic change.
If the major leagues had gotten on board with the streaming themselves earlier this wouldn't be a problem. Heck there is NO reason why I should be able to listen to local games via my smartphone and something "I Heart Radio". I can get it free any other time...but can't get it free on a free app? LOL!
I will assume this about the benjamins...
Either the NFL misunderstands what Aereo is, it's intentionally using hyperbole that rings hollow to anyone with any knowledge of the situation, or you're reading your own motives into the NFL's actions while betraying your own lack of research. Aereo claims that it's simply making it easier for people to access the free over-the-air television they're already entitled to using its army of antennas. By that argument, it should be limited to the games being broadcast by area broadcast stations; while it could theoretically add more games by importing other stations, such would probably belie and destroy its argument while running afoul of FCC rules regarding importation of distant signals, because it couldn't pick up those stations with its antennas and thus would be using some other system.
This fight is about nothing less than the future of free over-the-air broadcast television, and whether or not it continues to exist. "Copyright holders'" "exclusive retransmission licencing rights" take the form of the artificial device of retransmission consent used to attempt to level the playing field with the cable networks with the established tradition of charging cable providers while intentionally overlooking that so long as broadcast stations' signals are transmitted free over-the-air, their owners' control over those signals can never be truly "exclusive". Now those owners are talking of taking even that away now that Aereo has exposed this basic truth. I don't particularly like Aereo, the very definition of exploiting a loophole, but if anything it shouldn't even be necessary to achieve the goals it sets out to achieve, and the fact that it is only exposes how neglected our broadcast television infrastructure has become as cable has taken over.
The NFL and MLB should realize that somehow, someway, the tide is turning against the cable model, whether it takes the form of Congress instituting a la carte, widespread consumer-driven cord-cutting, cable providers offering sports-free packages, or simply cable providers standing up to the Longhorn Networks and CSN Houstons of the world. The entire cable model is a house of cards that is fast coming down as the Internet increasingly undermines it. The NBA and Big Ten would be idiots to double down on this model in their upcoming negotiations, and by the time the NFL and MLB's contracts run out I can almost assure you the bubble will have already popped and they will already be feeling the effects.
More NFL bloviating...they threatened to put the Super Bowl on Pay-Per-View about 10 years ago, until Congress stepped in. Aereo has won court case after court case regarding the legality of its service, and the NFL would lose if they tried to go to court. And, ask Baseball how their ratings have performed with their cable-only playoff games.
The trend is clear, people are tired of paying cable bills, which includes payments to local, "free" stations. It would be stupid for the NFL to get a large number of people to contact their Congressmen about moving the games of the only sport people still care about, to cable, which might backfire on the industry, and possibly cementing the legality of cheaper competitors, like Aereo.