Sunday, June 29, 2014

After Aereo, a Time to Give Up TV

Aereo has shut down its television antenna streaming service. The key points in a letter posted on its web site overnight:

A little over three years ago, our team embarked on a journey to improve the consumer television experience, using technology to create a smart, cloud-based television antenna consumers could use to access live over the air broadcast television.

On Wednesday, June 25, the United States Supreme Court reversed a lower court decision in favor of Aereo, dealing a massive setback to consumers.

As a result of that decision, our case has been returned to the lower Court. We have decided to pause our operations temporarily as we consult with the court and map out our next steps.

The Supreme Court apparently decided that Aereo’s complicated network of television antennas and Internet links meant that the CATV exemption did not apply in its case. It was not a highly confident ruling by the court, drafted in such a way that it would never hold much weight in a case involving any other defendant, so I wouldn’t take it as an indication of the future direction of telecommunications.

Today, with Aereo gone dark, is an especially opportune moment to give up the TV habit. TV viewers are not particularly happy with what TV programming has become or with the time they spend watching, but they need a push to change their habits and routine. Most often, the disruption comes in the form of a move from one home to another. That was my own experience 8 years ago, and it is easy to see how it works. When you move, it is easy to postpone a television subscription for a month, then another month, then another, until television is forgotten. A shock price increase, a job loss, and the cancellation of a favorite show are other disruptions that can lead people to stop watching television at home. A court decision that says your low-cost television service is illegal will tend to bring out people’s defiant streak. “They can’t force me to pay an extra one hundred dollars a month,” people will say, and taking that stance may be easier than actually finding $100 (or $200) in the monthly household budget. I will be surprised if more than a small fraction of Aereo viewers turn up as subscribers to the TV offerings that remain. As for Aereo, it will likely stay dark for two years or longer while its legal case and new business plan are sorted out. By the time it returns, many of its recent customers will be former television viewers. It will essentially have to start all over.