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US Broadcasters Attack Locast

Jeff Baumgartner
7/31/2019
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After taking down Aereo about five years ago, the nation's top TV broadcasters are swinging the legal hammer at Locast, a non-profit startup that provides streaming access to local TV channels in several US markets.

In a lawsuit filed by ABC, NBCU, CBS and Fox, the broadcasters claim that Locast is retransmitting their local TV station signals without authorization and violating copyright law. The allegations against Locast are similar to those lobbed at Aereo, a now-defunct startup that captured local TV broadcasts using thumbnail-sized antennas before redistributing those signals to paying customers via the Internet.

"Locast is simply Aereo 2.0, a business built on illegally using broadcaster content," the broadcasters claimed in a complaint filed with the US District Court in the Southern District of New York. "Locast is not the Robin Hood of television... Instead, Locast's founding, funding and operations reveal its decidedly commercial purposes."

Locast has previously argued that its non-profit status offers legal protection, citing a copyright statute that allows it to charge a "nominal fee" to "defray the actual and reasonable costs" for providing a digital translator service.

Locast reiterated that position today as it prepares to defend itself against the broadcaster-led lawsuit: "Locast is an independent, non-profit organization that provides a public service retransmitting free over-the-air broadcasts. Its activities are expressly permitted under the Copyright Act. The fact that no broadcasters have previously filed suit for more than a year and a half suggests that they recognize this. We look forward to defending the claims -- and the public's right to receive transmissions broadcast over the airwaves -- in the litigation."

Locast delivers TV programming by first accessing the local over-the-air signal, transcoding it on a server and then handing it off to a content delivery network within a local DMA. Geo-fencing assures that only consumers in that local market can access the TV channels in a given market. Locast is free, but encourages viewers to donate at least $5 per month. Locast has initially focused on major US markets such as New York, Chicago, Houston, Denver, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and Philadelphia, and has also begun to reach into smaller areas such as Rapid City and Sioux Falls, SD.

In June, Locast Founder David Goodfriend told Light Reading that more than 250,000 people had registered with Locast, but didn't say what percentage are donating money. However, he said Locast expected to reach operational cash-flow break-even by the end of 2019 based on current trends.

Pay-TV support
Some pay-TV providers wary of rising broadcast retransmission fees have offered support to Locast. In May, AT&T added Locast's app on its DirecTV and U-verse platform, following a similar move by Dish Network. Last month, AT&T announced it was donating $500,000 to Sports Fans Coalition NY, which operates the Locast app.

IOT Broadband LLC, a company owned by former Dish exec Michael Kelly, has also donated about $800,000 to Locast, according to The Wall Street Journal, which first reported on the lawsuit.

Goodfriend previously told The New York Times that Locast would also seek out corporate sponsorships and that it was in talks with Samsung about integrating Locast on smart TVs.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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