UPDATE, 5:10 PM: As it has from the beginning back in 2012, the latest legal battle between the broadcasters and Aereo comes down to whether the streaming service is engaging in a private or public performance. Aereo says the former and the broadcasters say the latter, and today a federal judge in Utah agreed with the broadcasters and shut the service down in six states as the two sides prepare to fight it out in front of the Supreme Court in late April. Unsurprisingly, Aereo CEO and founder Chet Kanojia is “disappointed” with today’s developments. Read the statement he provided Deadline here:
We are extremely disappointed that the District Court in Utah has chosen to take a different path than every other Court that has reviewed the Aereo technology. Consumers have a fundamental right to watch over the air broadcast television via an antenna and to record copies for their personal use. The Copyright Act provides no justification to curtail that right simply because the consumer is using modern, remotely located equipment. We are very sorry for the effect on our valued customers in the Tenth Circuit and we will pursue all available remedies to restore their ability to use Aereo.
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If Aereo’s legal battles with the broadcasters were left up to Sundance Film Festival attendees, the streaming service would win in a landslide. “We’ve been sued by 17 media companies,” said Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia today on a Sundance panel on the subject of on creativity and change. The words were barely out of Kanojia’s mouth before the packed room broke out in cheers and applause. “You just won the Oscar, my friend!” bellowed moderator and former MySpace president Jason Hirschhorn as the more than 150 people in the Filmmaker’s Lounge continued clapping. “I don’t mean that as a trophy but as a fact,” the clearly surprised Kanojia added.
Related: Fleming Forecast On Sundance 2014
Just over a week after the Supreme Court decided to hear the industry’s claim that Aereo infringes on broadcasters’ copyrights, the CEO was joined on the panel by actor-director Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Twitter’s head of music Bob Moczydlowsky, and Atavist co-founder/editor Evan Ratliff. “We’ve always said HITRECORD is a production company not a platform,” Gordon-Levitt said of his collaborative hub website. “One thing about HITRECORD is that every time we do it, it’s different.” HITRECORD ON TV is set to debut tomorrow with back-to-back episodes on the Participant Media-owned cable channel Pivot. Six more episodes are to follow. For Kanojia, platforms were the key. “Given where the Internet is today, there is an opportunity to create new platforms for creators,” he said.
Related: Aereo To Launch Next Week In Cincinnati Read More »
Big Media companies shouldn’t be able to have a business “selling a 500-channel package to people who don’t want it,” Aereo’s Chet Kanojia told Wall Streeters today at the Citi 2014 Internet, Media and Telecommunications Conference which coincides with the International CES confab in Las Vegas. But the giants have a lot invested in their pay TV bundles and, as a result, are trying “to kill us through a war of attrition” with multiple lawsuits and appeals in different jurisdictions alleging that Aereo infringes on their copyrights when it streams their over-the air signals without payment. (Aereo says it leases the kind of equipment consumers clearly can use to watch broadcast TV for free.) “They’re driven by control,” he says. For example when cable first challenged broadcasters “the same set of issues emerged…Every technological issue starts with ‘the world is ending and we’re going to take our signal away.’ The reality is they prosper.” Kanojia rejects the idea that his service poses a threat to broadcasters’ efforts to secure higher retransmission consent payments from cable and satellite companies. “I actually think there’s going to be no impact on retransmission consent.” The reason: The TV industry is too concentrated. For example, a distributor can’t tell Disney that it wants ESPN but won’t pay for ABC. “You can’t get there from here.” Read More »
A combo deal offering consumers an Aereo subscription with broadband service “makes a ton of sense,” Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia said today at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference. That would help the fledgling, Barry Diller-backed operation which offers its subscribers streams of local broadcasters’ free, over-the-air signals. It also could help cable companies that have said they’d consider launching their own version of Aereo if broadcasters continue to demand big price increases for retransmission consent rights. Aereo would be difficult to mimic because there’s a “broad portfolio [of patents] that we’re pursuing,” Kanojia says. His process of using micro antennas tuned to different frequencies “has never been done before.” Aereo also enjoys marketing advantages by being first out with the product. Nothing is likely to happen until the courts decide what to do with broadcasters’ charge that Aereo infringes on their copyrights by transmitting their signals without their permission. (Aereo says that it simply leases versions of the kinds of equipment consumers already use to watch free TV.) But Kanojia says he doesn’t worry that, if he wins in court, broadcasters will make good on their threats to take their signals off the airwaves. “I have the deep conviction that Congress will protect free broadcast.” Read More »
Broadcasters say that both services violate local TV stations’ copyrights by streaming free, over-the-air transmissions without payment. And the media companies were encouraged by recent court victories over FilmOnX. But Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia, who has been winning most of his legal battles, says not so fast. Since there’s never been an opportunity to look at the FilmOnX system in depth “we don’t know what the technology is,” he told the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference. “I just don’t know so I shy from doing a comparison.” Meanwhile, Kanojia says he has a winning hand with his case that says Aereo merely allows consumers to lease technologies — including antennas — that they have a right to use. Unlike cable and satellite companies that push channels to consumers (the set top box typically filters out the ones you don’t want), with Aereo “the signal sits dead without your intervention.” That makes his system similar in legal terms to an Internet server, such as Google Drive, that allows consumers to store their music collections. “If you stop Aereo, you’d be stopping entire industries.”
Related: Aereo Expands To Four More Cities
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Aereo is a mouse of a company, but it’s frightening a lot of Big Media elephants. After launching in New York nearly a year ago, the service — which streams broadcasters’ over-the-air signals to subscribers who typically pay $8 a month — just announced an ambitious plan to expand to 22 additional cities this year with $38M in Series B funding led by Barry Diller’s IAC and Highland Capital Partners. It’s also beginning to move beyond broadcast: Founder and CEO Chet Kanojia is talking to pay TV channels and Hollywood studios about contributing to Aereo’s programming.
That worries virtually every major broadcaster: Networks and stations don’t receive a dime from Aereo and have sued, alleging that it violates their copyrights. If Aereo wins, then pay TV providers may be emboldened to reject broadcasters’ demands for rising retransmission consent fees — one of the fastest growing sources of revenues for station owners including ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC. Aereo says that it’s perfectly legal to lease over-the-air antennas and add DVR-like capabilities to record shows, fast-forward and rewind.
I caught up with Kanojia last week at the International CES show in Las Vegas. Here’s our conversation, edited for length and clarity:
DEADLINE: You’re adding 22 cities this year. Is that it for now?
CHET KANOJIA: That’s Phase 1. That’ll hopefully keep us busy through the summer.
DEADLINE: And then?
KANOJIA: Then we’ll do more. We hope to do all the major markets as soon as we can. I think of 2013 and 2014 as build years for us. A lot of infrastructure build-out, get the customer adoption going, get the message right. That gives us a base to move to the next level. The next level may include digital programming, new channels, and who knows what.
DEADLINE: New channels, such as what? Read More »