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Locast to Viewers: Help!

Jeff Baumgartner
9/23/2019

Locast, a startup that streams local broadcast channels in several US markets, is appealing to its base to pony up funds to help the company mount its legal fight against the Big 4 US broadcasters -- ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC.

Locast launched its service more than 18 months ago, holding that it is on solid legal ground as a non-profit with a copyright exemption. Locast is free and uses geo-fencing to ensure that access to local TV signals remains local, but does encourage users to donate at least $5 per month to help keep the lights on.

AT&T and Dish Network have integrated Locast's app on their pay-TV platforms largely as a hedge for if and when broadcast TV retransmission deals go south and local signals are in jeopardy of being blocked. After Locast managed to sign on more than 250,000 registered users, the four major broadcasters filed a lawsuit in July 2019 alleging that Locast is violating copyright law by retransmitting their local TV station signals without authorization.

Locast received a $500,000 donation from AT&T earlier this year to help with operations and expansion costs, but Locast apparently needs more funds to fuel its legal defense.

According to Cord Cutters News, Locast issued an email to supporters earlier this month urging them to make a contribution, arguing that the broadcasters are "suing Locast to take away YOUR free, over-the-air local TV."

"Fight with us!," Locast continued in its plea. "We're a non-profit that relies on users' contributions to pay for operations, including defending ourselves in court against greedy corporate bullies."

A reader forwarded a copy of the email sent by Locast on Friday, Sept. 20. This is a snippet from that, but toward the bottom, Locast notes that it will be filing its response to the broadcaster-led lawsuit 'soon.'
A reader forwarded a copy of the email sent by Locast on Friday, Sept. 20. This is a snippet from that, but toward the bottom, Locast notes that it will be filing its response to the broadcaster-led lawsuit "soon."

Update: The Robin Hood graphic is little confusing without the full context of Locast's email message. In the body of the message, Locast notes that, "Big Media sued us in federal court, saying that 'Locast is not the Robin Hood of TV.' Oh, yeah, Big Media? Wrong! LOCAST REALLY IS THE ROBIN HOOD OF TV!"

So how does that work, exactly? Locast reasons: "The only difference is that Robin Hood stole from the rich and gave to the poor. Locast steals nothing—we just give you back the local television you’re entitled to, and that Big Media has tried to steal from you!"

And if the person receiving this message already contributes money, Locast then asks for that contributor to forward the message to five friends and family members and encourage them to become contributing members of Locast.

"If you're sick of paying too much for cable, satellite, or video over the Internet, FIGHT BACK by supporting the non-profit helping you to access your local TV stations: Locast!," the message continued.

Shades of Ivi
What Locast is attempting here might sound familiar in more ways than one to anyone who has followed pay-TV and the cord-cutting trend for the past decade.

Locast's situation tends to get compared to the plight of Aereo, a provider of streamed local TV signals that was also sued by the broadcasters and subsequently shut down. But Locast also shares some commonality with Ivi Inc, an OTT-TV service provider that streamed broadcast TV channels inside a basic package that sold for just $10 per month… and suffered the same fate as Aereo.

After being shut down by the courts in February 2011, Ivi founder and CEO Todd Weaver made an appeal to consumers (see the strangely hypnotic video below) to help the startup pay down legal fees and fund an appeal and the company's efforts "to remove the stranglehold the cable TV companies have on you today." In another similarity to Locast's push for funds, Weaver also urged people to spread the word via email and "rally your friends behind this effort."

Ivi's effort didn't amount to much. According to this Indiegogo page, Ivi managed to scrounge up just 31 "backers" and $1,245, falling well short of Ivi's "flexible goal" of $20,000.

This is not all to say that Locast won't be more successful in raising funds or defending itself against the US Big 4 broadcasters. But, if history is a lesson, Ivi's failure on all fronts is just another indicator of the steep uphill climb Locast is facing.

Related posts:

— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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