UPDATE, 6:35 PM: Aereo says that it will defend itself against the broadcasters’ suits. “Consumers are legally entitled to access broadcast television via an antenna and they are entitled to record television content for their personal use,” the company says. New technologies have “made access to television easier and better for consumers….Aereo looks forward to its upcoming product launch as well as a prompt resolution of these cases.”
PREVIOUS, 4:02 PM: It didn’t take long for several companies with New York television stations — including PBS, Fox Television, Univision, and WPIX — to challenge the new firm that wants to sell Web streams of the broadcasters’ over-the-air transmissions. (UPDATE: ABC, CBS and NBC Universal also filed a complaint today against Aereo along with a statement: “This service is based on the illegal use of our content. Beyond that, we believe the complaint speaks for itself.”) Aereo said last month that it would launch its $12 a month subscription service in the Big Apple on March 14. In addition to retransmitting TV signals, Aereo — backed in part by Barry Diller — would offer customers the ability to record and watch shows on demand, much like they would with a DVR. But the station owners asked the U.S. District Court in New York to issue an injunction, alleging that the new business “free rides on (the stations’) substantial investment in their broadcasting infrastructure.” The rights that they buy to their content are “the economic foundation upon which the television production and distribution industries rest.” If the court doesn’t act, the plaintiffs say, then Aereo will undermine the stations’ ability to create business opportunities by streaming their content. National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton says the group “strongly supports” the suit. ”A plaintiffs’ win in this case will ensure the continued availability of (free and diverse) programming to the viewing public.” Prior to today’s action, Aereo said that it was not infringing on broadcasters’ rights: The company has a tiny antenna, about the size of a dime, for each customer. In effect, subscribers rent them to pick up the free, over-the-air signals that they also can receive at home. The argument is similar to the one that Cablevision successfully made in court on behalf of its remote storage DVR.