Should Radio Shack And Best Buy Pay Retransmission Fees To Stations?

It’s been over a year since Charlie Sheen entered his real-life TV drama with CBS and Warner Bros. Good news: Former big-time TV executive and current Internet honcho Barry Diller has started a story arc of his own.

The current IAC/InterActive Corp. chairman is backing the newfangled Internet-based TV service Aereo. That’s the one that  will essentially ascribe a “mini-digital antenna” to each consumer.  That is key to competing against legal efforts by the TV networks to stop Aereo from getting off the ground.

In their lawsuit against Aereo, the networks say that what Aereo is doing is “technological gimmickry” to get use of their programming without paying retransmission or other fees for it.

Aereo has countersued, saying its service does not infringe on broadcasters’ copyrights.



Speaking at SXSW on Sunday, Diller repeated a response he made recently to concerned New York broadcasters: “When you get Radio Shack to pay you some slice of their profit when they sell an aerial, we'll pay you anything you like, but we're not transmitting anything."

Well, that’s just it. Aereo has figured out a way to give consumers digital antennas for their TV sets. But it is a “virtual” antenna, with no physical “antenna”-like product in the home.

No matter. Diller feels a viewer with an “address” -- we are guessing a home address -- is all that’s required to get free, over-the-air television.

By Diller’s reasoning, the broadcasters’s view would mean that all electronic store retailers should pay “fees” to stations for “transmission” equipment sold to consumers (small as that group might be) to receive over-the-air transmission of TV signals. But they don’t and Aereo shouldn’t have to either.

But why stop there? If viewers have a right to the public airwaves, perhaps someone should be paying for their TV sets as well. Free access to broadcast TV -- and whatever spews electronically in those airwaves -- should be, well, free.

That shouldn’t be a deal-breaker, and shouldn’t worry TV executives. Everyone would still get to sell advertising, and I still need soap, car insurance, and over-the-counter heartburn medication for my anticipated rising entertainment monthly costs.

2 comments about "Should Radio Shack And Best Buy Pay Retransmission Fees To Stations?".
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  1. Arthur Greenwald from Greenwald Media, March 13, 2012 at 7:50 p.m.


    I think you're mistaken. Aereo provides a literal physical antenna, albeit a tiny one, for each subscriber. Therefore, they argue, the initial reception is indeed free over-the-air.

    The subscriber fee pays for the use of that antenna and, more importantly, the ability to selectively record, store and play back programs using Aereo's cloud-based servers.

    I think it's primarily that playback that the networks claim violates their rights. However, the same networks refuse to let their own affiliates "rebroadcast" their own signals on their own FCC-licensed Mobile DTV frequencies, so maybe the networks are calling everything retransmission.


  2. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, March 13, 2012 at 9:12 p.m.

    Diller is correct. If I buy an antenna and put it on my roof or set-top, the broadcast signal is free, even if I connect my antenna to a Slingbox and stream my own antenna reception to another location using my own storage/retransmission device. Thus I am my own self-contained private user (and not re-selling the signal). The 1984 SCOTUS Betamax ruling gives me the right to record my own free signal for private use. Recent court rulings say Slingbox streaming of my own signal is not copyright infringement, because I am not retransmitting to another person. Now, if I lack the technical prowess to erect my own antenna and wire my own DVR and Slingbox, can I not hire someone (call him Barry) to help me use my own personal antenna to receive and stream my own free reception? I give him $12 a month for his trouble and equipment, but I am not buying the signal from him (he uses an antenna that belongs to me to capture the free signals in the air) and he's not transmitting anything to me, because I am the sole user of the free signal. So there's no retransmission. The networks can argue that they never intended broadcasting to work this way, but once they decide to transmit for free, then my right to view, stream, or record content I receive over the public airwaves is, well, all mine, even if I decide to rent Barry's help. Obviously I could do it all myself, just as I could clean my own house instead of hire a monthly housekeeper, so whatever I pay is not for retransmission but for "convenience." It's no different than the guy I hired 30 years ago to maintain the antenna tower above my farm house out in the middle of nowhere.

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