Aereo antenna arrayAereo, the embattled over-the-air TV streaming service, got what was effectively an endorsement from the Consumer Electronics Association. The CEA filed an amicus brief in support of Aereo as it defends a lawsuit brought by broadcasters.

Previously, consumer groups Public Knowledge and the Electronic Freedom Foundation had also filed amicus briefs supporting Aereo. And so did the Computer and Communications Industry Association. CCIA president Ed Black said, “TV broadcasters are essentially complaining that Aereo is disrupting their existing business model. However, in the past, the Supreme Court has recognized that it is best for Congress to decide whether or not it is desirable to expand protections of copyright owners to respond to changes in technology. We agree that Congress, rather than the court system, would have more flexibility to address TV broadcasters complaints without creating uncertainty for Internet innovators and investors.”

Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the CEA, said “the case will hinge on basic principles from the 1984 Supreme Court Sony Betamax case, the Magna Carta decision of our industry defining full recording of broadcast television as a fair use and allowing innovation in technology. The Aereo case, like the Sony Betamax case, is a challenge to innovative technology allowing people to conveniently access free, over-the-air broadcasting. In Sony, it was time shifting broadcasting by a VCR; in Aereo, it is accessing free broadcasting  through a computer.  In both cases, the technology expands the audience, is consistent with broadcaster-borrowed use of public spectrum for free, over-the-air broadcasting and is being challenged as it is disruptive, new and not allowing consumer control by old industries.”

So that’s all good, but another twist came to light this week. Todd Spangler of Multichannel News reported that Aereo filed a patent in February on its system to stream TV to viewers outside their “home market”. Although you can only sign up for Aereo signals from your home market (currently just New York City), you might be able to watch your streaming signal from your personal Aereo antenna even when you’re on the road. Which is pretty much what I can do with my Sling-enabled Dish Network receiver. I wonder what’s new in that patent?

Anyway, here’s a video report of what Aereo is like, if you haven’t seen it already.

Alki David's Twitter photo

@alkidavid‘s Twitter profile photo

Eriq Gardner at The Hollywood Reporter just published an amazing, solid biography of Alki David, the self-described eccentric behind FilmOn. It provides such an entertaining look into the background of David, the fun guy, and FilmOn, the company that is bucking a huge, entrenched industry.

Who knew, before this article, that Charlie Sheen, Ice-T, and Andy Dick are board members of FilmOn? Who knew about the reason David fired a supermodel from his new over-the-air station? There is such a wealth of interesting information here that you just have to read the article.

The part that leaves me wanting more is David’s quote that “We have deployed over 2.5 million (tiny OTA) antennas in major cities all around the country.” Wouldn’t it be great to get Aereo-style OTA channels available through FilmOn? I’m looking forward to it.

 

Simple.TV deviceYet another service that offers over-the-air channels streamed to internet devices is about to hit the market. This one looks legal, because it uses your home antenna.

Simple.TV is a great story. It showed off a prototype at the International CES in January, won a Best of CES award from CNET, then rode a successful Kickstarter project to create a finished product for consumers. You plug in your home OTA antenna and an ethernet connection, then it streams the shows to you wherever you are. Add a USB hard drive and it’ll even act as a DVR for you. All for the cost of the $150 device, although you might want to spring for the $4.99/month enhanced TV listing subscription.

Streaming this way isn’t completely new. You can hook up a Slingbox or a TiVo and get the same results with the right equipment. What’s new is that Simple.TV has brought that functionality down to a lower price point with a, dare I type this, simpler interface.

What fascinates me is that programmers don’t seem to care much about this kind of streaming, but they’re still battling hard against Aereo, which is only different in that it maintains the OTA antenna for you. Cablevision was the most recent company to dogpile on Aereo, submitting a brief that says Cablevision’s cloud-based DVR is nothing like Aereo’s because Cablevision paid retransmission fees. Yes, this is the same Cablevision that publicly suggested less than two years ago that any non-profit could freely retransmit any OTA channel. So you might want to take all that with a grain of salt.

Anyway, Simple.TV is supposed to begin shipping units this week. I hope it encourages more people to explore the wealth of programming they’re already getting for free.

Leslie EllisLeslie Ellis is the force behind Translation-Please.com, a great blog that discusses TV’s technical side in terms that we normal humans can understand. She’s also got a blog on Multichannel News, and that’s where she just posted a concise background piece about that TV bandwidth that lots of folks are fighting over.

How much bandwidth do you need for a channel? Why are channels set the way they are? What happens to them after they’re switched to carry data services instead? Leslie answers all these questions, so go read it!

MBC logoAs I mentioned in an earlier post, I spent a few days in Chicago last month. Every baseball fan should make a pilgrimage to Wrigley Field at least once. Nuff said.

Between my Wrigley tour and a game the next day, I had some time to spare. I happened to see a brochure for The Museum of Broadcast Communications just down the street from my hotel, so I went to check it out.

As a physical museum, MBC is a work in progress. The radio floor is laid out with a row of Radio Hall of Fame portraits and little else, but there are great old specimens of receiving equipment around the corner.

Upstairs on the TV floor, there are almost a dozen exhibits of old programming, but there’s arranged erratically. One is sports through the decades, another is children’s shows, another is sitcoms. But there’s no flow to the narrative, just different pull-outs of TV history, often Chicago-centric programming. There’s also a TV news setup in one room so you can try your luck at delivering a story from the anchor desk or a weather forecast in front of a green screen.

My guide at the museum kept showing me its different sections, and when we got to the TV area, he made it a point to mention that I really should check the archive of video that’s available online at Museum.TV, which happens to be the MBC’s web site. That archive was unavailable then, but a recent check showed that it’s a treasure trove now. MBC has hundreds of video clips available on demand. You have to register to view them, they’re pretty low-quality, and they use Windows Media Player, but this wealth of free TV history is just amazing. This feast for the TV historian gives me hope that the physical museum might get its act together too. Check it out!