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 email@example.com.