Aereo decision will give TV industry breathing room … but for how long?

Wednesday was a good day for broadcasters, studios and broadcast distributors south of the border.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled (subscribers only) that the service provided by Aereo — which uses tiny antennas that can fit on the tip of a finger to send over-the-air TV signals to smartphones, tablets and computers over the Internet for $8 US a month, and offers PVR capability for an extra $4  — violates the Copyright Act.

Broadcasters took the threat Aereo posed seriously, and it even had the likes of Fox and Disney threatening to stop broadcasting over the air and become pay-TV channels.

So Aereo’s defeat is big news for the U.S. industry, but less so here in Canada. Earlier this year, Barry Sookman, a partner with McCarthy Tetrault in Toronto (and one of the co-authors of a brief filed by Canadian groups opposing Aereo) told The Wire Report that Canadian law wouldn’t allow an Aereo-like service to start up here.

He said at the time that the U.S. Supreme Court was considering Aereo’s fate that “it is very unlikely that a decision in the Aereo case, one way or another, would affect Canadian law,” adding that Aereo would be “illegal” in Canada.

Case closed, right?

Maybe not so much. Sure, it turns out that the specific service Aereo provided can’t actually be offered in the U.S. or, it seems, in Canada either. But digital antennas are legal, stand-alone PVR systems are legal and it would be foolish to think nobody else will figure out a better way to combine those two.

For example, last week our editor Derek Abma reported on a new service called the Tablo, launched in Canada and the U.S. just last month.

The Tablo, which costs $249.99 or $329.99 depending on the version, provides digital recording capabilities and electronic-guide functionality for those who rely on over-the-air signals for their TV. To make it work, the user has to provide the antenna and a USB hard drive for storing recorded content (plus an Internet connection and computer, tablet or other device).

It also offers subscriptions to an additional web-based guide service, which provides programming info, the ability to search programs by genre (e.g. movies, sports and drama), automated recording features, and the ability to access one’s own live TV feed or recordings remotely. That service costs $5.49 a month, $54.99 a year or $164.99 for a lifetime.

Grant Hall, CEO of Tablo-maker Nuvyyo Inc., told The Wire Report in an interview that his service is different than Aereo because Aereo uses antennas to pick up TV signals, and then transmits that content over the Internet to end users for a monthly fee. The Tablo, in contrast, provides services to better enjoy the TV service that is available to the customer anyway; it doesn’t create that availability, he said. Michel Arpin, former vice-chairman of broadcasting at the CRTC, told the Wire Report that from a broadcasting regulator’s perspective, he doesn’t see any issues with the Tablo or the services Nuvyyo provides.

With the Tablo, Hall said his company is “targeting [generation] Y, the millennials, so people who’ve grown up with this technology.” It’s a generation that’s comfortable and already using alternatives to the traditional TV system. As Hall put it, “they’re using Netflix. They’ve got a Roku box or an Apple TV.”

It’s also a generation, I’d argue, that knows how to find pirated downloads and streams for TV content, and has fewer problems using them than many might think.

That said, the success of iTunes proved that a service can get people to pay for what they used to obtain (or steal) for free, if it’s good enough. Netflix is another example of such a service.

Could a future version of Aereo — or the Tablo — be another?

Anja Karadeglija is a reporter and copy editor for The Wire Report. She can be reached at akarad@thewirereport.ca.

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That’s a lot of data

A report from Cisco Systems this week told us the volume of data running through the Internet and other IP networks will approximately triple over the next five years.

Big deal, right? The same report said the amount of data coursing through the world’s IP veins grew fivefold over the previous five years.

Well, growing three times is still a pretty big deal, actually. Keep in mind that the monumental growth seen in recent years created that much bigger of a base when considering any multiplication equation that might come our way.

IP data generated by devices in Canada (some controlled by people, others not so much) will grow 2.4 times during this time, Cisco said, as reported by The Wire Report (subscribers only).

Think about your own home and it’s not hard to understand how this kind of thing happens.

Up until about five years ago, there was only one appliance in my home that was connected to the Internet — the family computer. Now, there are a dozen devices in my family’s possession that are Net-capable.

This plethora of connectable machinery grew in a seemingly gradual way. It started when we realized that, just by asking, our Internet service provider would replace the existing modem with one equipped with WiFi capabilities at no extra cost. As a result, we got a little laptop so we could access the Internet from anywhere in the house.

Then we became part of the smartphone market. We were actually behind the times a bit, never seeing the need for such things initially. But you know how it goes; eventually you run out of ideas on what to get your spouse for their birthday. A couple of tablets later came into our lives in much the same way.

We’ve also managed to acquire three different television accessories with Internet connectivity — one Blu-ray player and two video-game consoles. The kids each have their own iPod Touch devices, which they use mostly as mini iPads to watch videos and play online games, with little attention paid to these machines’ ability to play music.

And think about how content on the Internet has changed. For the first 15 years or so of the digital age, the web was mostly a place to do some reading or look at still pictures.

Now, it’s dominated by video, which, according to some of the bills I’ve received, uses a lot more data than text. The Cisco report said video made up 66 per cent of the world’s IP traffic last year, and that’ll increase to 79 per cent by 2018. A Cisco official tells me video content reached 50 per cent in terms off all IP traffic in 2010.

I’ll take responsibility for a good chunk of that trend. I haven’t yet cut the cord on TV service, but more often than not, I’m happy enough to just to plug some earphones into my tablet and watch YouTube, while letting my wife have the run of the TV. Even at that, she’s usually multitask-viewing with some kind of restaurant-related program on the TV while also glancing at God-only-knows on her tablet.

And these above descriptions are merely about what’s going on right now. It makes one wonder what could happen to make data volumes double or triple in the coming years.

From a global standpoint, much of the world that is not connected now, in places like the Middle East and Africa, will come online.

Closer to home, video delivered via the Internet will become an even bigger part of our lifestyles. We’re going to watch more TV and video when and where we want, as mobile apps for such activities become more widespread. I’m assuming greater simplicity and lower data pricing per volume will be introduced to make this kind of activity something people are more willing adopt.

And the videos we watch will become richer in quality as 4K, or ultra-HD, becomes more common, what we now call HD now becomes the standard and what we now call standard definition becomes too ugly to watch.

And, of course, machines are going to start communicating with with each other more in the coming years. Cisco predicted that that machine-to-machine (M2M) communications will account for five per cent of IP traffic in Canada by 2018, up from just 0.4 per cent last year. That makes sense because, let’s face it, humans were never properly qualified to operate a thermostat. In the future, there will be no more arguments over whether it’s too hot or too cold. The machine’s decision will stand.

But whether it’s person-to-person, machine-to-machine or person-to-machine transmissions, you can bank on rising amounts of network data being as much of a sure thing in the years ahead as death and taxes.

Derek Abma is editor of The Wire Report. He can be reached at dabma@thewirereport.ca.

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