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All Tech Considered

The Binge-Watch Before The Purge, Now That Aereo Is Likely Done

Originally published on Mon June 30, 2014 11:35 am

The Supreme Court gave broadcasters a big win this week in their battle against the startup service Aereo. Subscribers in select cities have been watching and recording live broadcast TV with Aereo, at a cost of $8 to $12 a month. But what happens to consumers now that the service is illegal?

For recent New York University law school graduate Amanda Levendowski, the service meant an ease and a price that made a lot of sense. "I really wanted to be able to stream local channels so I could watch TV shows sooner than the one-week delay that you get on Hulu and without doing an additional long-term paid subscription with a deluxe [cable] service," she said.

The two-year-old Aereo service picks up live TV signals and sends them to Internet-connected devices for watching or recording.

"I can watch it at home, I can watch it from campus, and you can record a significant amount of television shows to watch later," Levendowski says.

Now, after the ruling, Levendowski's worried she'll lose those TV shows she has saved to watch later. It's unclear how long she and other Aereo subscribers will still get the service, since the Supreme Court ruled Aereo was running afoul of copyright laws by showing network TV content without paying the same licensing fees cable and satellite companies do.

"It's gotta unwind pretty fast," Forrester Research analyst Jim Nail said.

Aereo Chief Executive Officer Chet Kanojia said leading up to the decision he didn't have a contingency plan if the company lost in court.

In response to Wednesday's ruling, Aereo says it's still evaluating its options. The company holds more than a dozen patents, so its technology could live on in re-worked ways. But analysts aren't optimistic.

"It's just flat out illegal, so how long can a company continue an illegal activity?" Nail said.

He says it won't make sense for the company to reinvent itself by paying rebroadcast fees, because that would end its price advantage over cable. But Nail credits Aereo for giving cable some competition, even if it lost in court.

"What this does give the incumbent cable companies and broadcast companies [is] ... a little bit of a window to continue improving and rolling out their own 'TV everywhere' services," Nail said. "And if they get that right, then there's much less incentive to pay attention to those new innovators."

In the near term, subscribers like Levendowski are focused on squeezing in hours of saved TV before Aereo starts winding down.

"I might binge through these final episodes of The Good Wife to get up to real time. I just know that's going to be sort of an emotional move," Levendowski says.

What she's really sad about is what happens in the fall, when new television seasons begin. By then, Aereo will likely be over.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. The Supreme Court gave broadcasters a huge win this week in their battle against a service called Aereo. Subscribers in 11 cities have been using it to watch and record broadcast TV. With Aereo now deemed illegal, NPR's Elise Hu explores what's next for consumers.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: In her final year as a law student at NYU, Amanda Levendowski learned the nitty-gritty of copyright law. She says it's worth it because that's how she first heard about Aereo.

AMANDA LEVENDOWSKI: I really wanted to be able to stream local channels so I could watch TV shows sooner than the sort of one-week delay that you get on Hulu, and without doing an additional, long-term, paid subscription with a deluxe service.

HU: Like cable. The two-year-old Aereo lets her do exactly what she wants. It picks up live TV signals and sends them to Internet-connected devices like phones, tablets, desktop computers. So Levendowski became a subscriber this January.

LEVENDOWSKI: I'm watching the World Cup in one tab, and on my recordings I'm able to watch the episode of "The Good Wife."

HU: The service costs users anywhere between 8 and $12 a month.

LEVENDOWSKI: I can watch it at home. I can watch it from campus. And you can record a significant amount of television shows to watch later.

HU: Those TV shows Levendowski has saved to watch later is exactly what she's worried about now. It's unclear how long she and other Aereo subscribers will still get the service. Aereo was showing network TV content without paying the same licensing fees cable and satellite companies do. That led to a legal battle that wound up at the Supreme Court. In March, I asked Aereo's CEO, Chet Kanojia, what would happen if he lost?

Do you have a contingency plan in case it doesn't go your way?

CHET KANOJIA: No.

HU: Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled Aereo's service is running afoul of copyright laws.

JIM NAIL: It's got to unwind pretty fast.

HU: That's Forrester analyst Jim Nail. He says it won't make sense for the company to start paying rebroadcast fees, because that would end its price advantage over cable. But he does credit Aereo for giving cable some competition, even if it lost in court.

NAIL: What this does give these incumbent, you know, cable companies and broadcast companies - I think it gives them a little bit of window to continue improving and growing out their own TV-everywhere services. And if they get that right, then there's much less incentive for consumers to pay attention to those new innovators.

HU: Aereo says it's still evaluating its options. The company holds more than a dozen patents, so it's technology could live on in reworked ways, but analysts aren't optimistic.

NAIL: It's just flat-out illegal, so how long can a company continue an illegal activity?

HU: For subscribers like Levendowski, the binge watching begins. She's got to catch up with hours of recorded TV, especially her favorite, "The Good Wife" on CBS.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE GOOD WIFE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: We've always had bad timing, haven't we?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR 2: We have.

LEVENDOWSKI: I might binge through these final episodes of "The Good Wife" to get up to real-time. I just know that that's going to be sort of an emotional move.

HU: What she's really sad about is what happens in the Fall, when new television seasons begin. By then, Aereo will likely be over. Elise Hu, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.