In June, the Supreme Court ruled against the company Aereo in what was seen as a major victory for traditional television broadcasters, which claimed that Aereo had violated copyright laws by capturing their broadcast signals and selling it to customers for a fee. The decision constitutes a severe setback for Aereo, one of several companies vying to disrupt the hoary television industry, but that doesn't mean traditional broadcasters are safe. Far from it.
In fact, there's a good chance that the Aereo decision will one day be seen as a tipping point.
In the past, efforts to limit technology that can deliver a better and cheaper experience have failed miserably. When start-ups are denied the ability to provide new types of access to traditional products, the content part of the equation becomes the focus.
Just look at YouTube. At first, the video-hosting service contained lots of copyrighted material and allowed very easy streaming access to it. This was quickly challenged and stifled, which eventually led to new efforts to create original content. Netflix and tons of other internet companies have taken this route, stealing audience share from traditional network television.
Instead of taking Aereo down, broadcasters should have been competing against them on their own technological turf. Blocking new technology has never kept an incumbent safe in the past. It likely won't work this time either, according to Mark Ely, CEO of Simple.TV, a hardware alternative to Aereo.
"The heart of the issue is consumers wanting a choice in how they're getting content," says Ely. "While the decision is clearly a blow for Aereo, we want to ensure consumers know that there is an alternative in Simple.TV that will still allow them to get live and local content in HD at home or on the mobile devices."
Unlike Aereo, which uses its own antennas to capture broadcast signals, Simple.TV puts the antenna in your home. When Simple.TV is remotely sending television to your phone across the internet, it's only sending what's already in a user's possession.
"One issue that hasn't been discussed is the diversity of platforms on which content can be enjoyed," Ely says. "While a majority of consumer TV watching still happens in the home, there are a growing number of mobile use cases that must be supported. Today's generation is growing up with Netflix and Hulu, versus the previous generation that was at the mercy of what the few major networks were providing."
A direct competitor to Simple.TV, Tablo offers the same type of hardware solution to stream and record broadcast television. The product has a few minor differences, including an additional USB port, but overall Tablo wants to give customers the chance to set up their own Aereo-like service.
Another interesting new product is Mohu's Channels. The company already makes a highly rated HD antenna, and now it wants to arrange content in a new way.
Mohu's Channels is a new kind of television guide, blending online content from streaming sites with broadcast television, so it's not apparent to the user which is which. The thinking is that it shouldn't matter where the content comes from or how it gets there, so long as you get to watch the shows you want to watch.
One way or another, the way we watch television is going to change. It's time broadcasters understood that.