The New Yorker recently ran a post on the embattled TV streaming company Aereo. Here are my quick thoughts:
- Regardless of the outcome of this case, I think Aereo may have a limited lifespan. NBC et al. have threatened to pull their programming from over the air and become, essentially, cable networks. That would screw over people who still use antennas to get their programming. A better (and more likely) option would be for the networks themselves to offer live streaming, as mentioned by Farhad Manjoo at the New York Times, which they could probably do more quickly than Aereo could build out antenna networks across the country. Either way, I’m curious what CEO Chet Kanojia’s contingency plan is to keep Aereo viable…or is this all just to prove a point about the TV industry?
- Cable providers do have a tier for people who are only interested in the standard broadcast networks but would like to avoid having to fiddle with antennas. However, this option isn’t well priced: in Brooklyn, the main providers (Time Warner Cable and Cablevision) charge around $20 a month, versus Aereo’s $8 a month. Are retransmission fees solely responsible for the bloated price, or could cable companies stand to charge less?
- But the fundamental question I have arises from this passage:
As companies like Comcast acquire both the pipes (Time Warner Cable) and the content (NBCUniversal) required to make TV work, local broadcasters are increasingly owned by cable companies, and have little incentive to compete with them. This leads to higher prices and decreased access to television that should be free to watch.
I’m not sure that it’s a given assumption any more that television should be free to watch. Yes, there’s a sense of fairness in the arrangement that the networks broadcast their content because they’re granted use of public airwaves for free. But is having access to The Big Bang Theory and Saturday Night Live really a public good? And should we place primary responsibility on for-profit enterprises to carry out this public good?