Aereo Wants You to Protect Your … Wait, What, Again?
Right now Aereo is doing exactly what you'd expect it to be doing -- only a little late.
With arguments on American Broadcasting Companies v. Aereo beginning next Tuesday before the U.S. Supreme Court, the embattled New York tech startup has just now taken its case to the people with ProtectMyAntenna.org. Of course, because so few people actually use antennas anymore -- last summer the Consumer Electronics Association released a study saying that just 7% of U.S. household rely solely on antennas for TV reception -- Aereo is using its consumer-facing advocacy site to, once again, explain what it does:
"Aereo's technology provides a consumer the ability to use a remotely located individual antenna to access free-to-air broadcasts, make a personal copy of a program on a remote DVR and play back that copy only to him or herself. Using the cloud, Aereo was able to develop a smarter, more sophisticated antenna, purpose-built for the 21st century consumer."
Aereo then goes on to say that "since the dawn of television" consumers have had the right to watch broadcast TV via individual antennas -- and all its technology does is relocate individual antennas and recording equipment into the cloud. The broadcast networks and their allies say the tech actually steals their content.
To underscore its "power to the people" subtext, the ProtectMyAntenna.org site also includes links to court briefs in its support from the likes of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Center for Democracy in Technology, etc.
It's a late PR push -- especially considering the ProtectMyAntenna.org domain was registered (using DomainsByProxy.com, presumably so Aereo could keep its plan secret) on Dec. 10 of last year -- and a curious one, too, given that the Supreme Court is supposed to rise above the fray.
But perhaps the Supreme Court justices read the Wall Street Journal, where today an op-ed titled "Broadcasters Don't Own the Airwaves" appears online and in print. It was written by Aereo minority investor Barry Diller, the chairman of IAC. He lays out a case for Aereo's right to keep doing what it's doing similar to what's seen on ProtectMyAntenna.org, but pointedly brings in a political dimension when he writes,
"Broadcasters have now corralled the White House into joining their efforts to crush any innovation that challenges the status quo and the industry's lucrative business model. In March, the Obama administration submitted a 'friend of the court' brief in ABC v. Aereo. The brief claims that the retransmission infringes on the broadcasters exclusive right to public transmission. But this ignores the government's own previous legal positions and threatens to outlaw the entire cloud-computing industry. It also puts the Obama administration at odds with technological innovation and the interests of consumers."
Meanwhile, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito yesterday mysteriously un-recused himself from American Broadcasting Companies v. Aereo, which means all nine justices will hear the case -- preventing the possibility of a four-to-four tie.
Which side will win? Readers of the Supreme Court tea leaves seem divided, but at least one interested party seems convinced that the broadcasters will prevail. CBS President-CEO Les Moonves discussed the case with CNBC late last month, noting that U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. had just come out in support of the networks at war with Aereo. "The percentage of cases that go with the solicitor general are very high -- somewhere in the 75 to 80-percent range -- so we're confident," said Moonves.
Diller, on the other hand, just put the odds of an Aereo victory at 50-50.
Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.