What’s the Future of Internet TV?

Future of Internet TV - Calgary Herald

What is the future of Internet TV? Most people from outside the tech and tech news industry I speak with about this subject are confused. They see the subject of Internet-based TV as only concerning video streaming sites like Hulu and Netflix. However, in reality it means so much more.

Have You Heard of Aereo?

I’m betting that unless you follow tech industry news as closely as I do, you haven’t. From what I read, Aereo looked like a great idea that was way ahead of its time. That’s probably why it’ll probably be a few more years before we see its original business model return. The premise is pretty simple, but ground-breaking all the same.

Here’s the gist of what they offered before the Supreme Court ruled that they were operating illegally. Basically, subscribers ($8 a month) would be sent a small antenna with which you would connect to a main antenna in your neighborhood or city. Through this connection, which connected to a set of servers, you could watch live programming from local TV stations, as well as record programs you couldn’t sit and watch when they aired live.

Aereo (pictured above) argued, and won in the lower courts, that they were nothing more than a provider of equipment to consumers. However, ABC, who brought suit against them didn’t agree. ABC argued that they were a Cable company since they were providing content just like a Cable TV company. The Justices on the Supreme Court agreed, ruling that the company’s business model was illegal and violated copyrights.

The Networks and Studios Rejoice

Because they were taking signals that were readily available to consumers with a TV antenna, Aereo considered themselves to be within the confines of copyright law. Most tech industry pundits agree. However, not surprisingly, the studios, both major and minor, and the TV networks are rejoicing about the decision. This is because the ruling means “business as usual.”

Some media company spokespeople are saying that the ruling will allow them to continue to innovate and push technological boundaries. They are also saying that the ruling protects copyrights and brings incentive to the holders of those copyrights to continue to innovate.

But those arguments would be great if we could see the results they speak of. The big players don’t really seem to be doing that, though. They seem to be more ready to work arm-in-arm with the major Cable TV companies to keep us beholden to and reliant on them. Take for example the recent news about how some companies are trying to charge Netflix and Netflix customers more for the increased bandwidth required for video streaming. None of the major players is putting much effort into online broadcasting.

The only “online TV network” that is getting any support from the major players in the media and entertainment sector is Hulu. That company has had a revolving door policy with heads of the major players in the media market occupying the executive suite, including Newscorp (Fox parent company), NBC, and Walt Disney. What’s worse is there seems to be very little on what the future of Internet TV holds for them?

Tech Industry Analysts See the Future of Internet TV Stagnating

James McQuivey, principal analyst and VP at Forrester Research sees the decision as using copyright as an excuse to preserve the status quo with the major studios and networks decreeing what we can and can’t watch and when. Basically, the decision protects the business model and profits of the major networks and studios and prevents further innovation.

The director of research for consumer watchdog group the Consumer Federation of America, Mark Cooper agrees and calls the decision anything but “balanced.” Mr. Cooper stated “This decision is bad for video consumers, who have lost an important low cost option for viewing the programming they want whenever, wherever and on the device they prefer. However, its full impact may be to unleash a flood of law suits that challenge much content distribution through the Internet cloud.”

Legal Analysts See Problems for Other Cloud Providers

Even legal analysts are seeing problems with this decision. The Supreme Court Justices who decided in favor of the networks and studios claim their ruling is extremely narrow and won’t affect other cloud media providers. However, their ruling clearly stated that they couldn’t tell how they would rule in other, similar cases.

University of Notre Dame eminent law professor, Mark Kenna, who specializes in patent and copyright law, intellectual property law, and trademark law disagrees. Paraphrasing his statement, he says that the ruling equates Aereo to a Cable company erroneously because it re-transmits a signal that is over-the-air instead of Cable-based. He also stated that the decision makes no meaningful differentiation between Aereo and other cloud computing services. This means that other cloud computing services could be at risk. Cloud vendors themselves are worried about that exact thing.

My Take

A Cable TV company is active. They provide media, the medium over which that media is transmitted, and the equipment required to interpret the signals they broadcast. Aereo provided consumers with a tiny antenna that relayed the signals the consumers were looking for, allowing them to watch their desired programs on whatever device and in almost whatever location they desired.

People I’ve spoken with on Facebook and Twitter are getting tired of the Cable TV and Satellite TV company business models. We want the TV we want, when we want, and where we want it. More importantly, we want it to be affordable. Many pundits are saying this ruling is going to increase video piracy, and I tend to agree. This ruling doesn’t bode well for the future on Internet TV in my opinion.

I’d really like to hear what you have to say about this. I’m going to be monitoring this thread more closely than my other ones. Please, let me know what you think. In order the future of Internet TV to be bright and colorful, we need innovation to continue.

Photo Credit: Calgary Herald