John C. Dvorak on Aereo: I’m Siding With the Fat Cats

Written by John C. Dvorak

Our John C. Dvorak on Aereo. As the Supreme Court case between it and ABC et al unfolds, he’s outraged about what he calls Aereo’s cheap trick. Here’s why. —  What’s wrong with how the tech world is eyeing the Supreme Court case now going on between ABC et al and Aereo? Here’s our John C. Dvorak on Aereo, exclusive to aNewDomain.

I’m still waiting for one of the many pundits out there commenting on the situation with Aereo, with its antenna array, to come out and say it: Say the Aereo antenna solution to get local broadcast TV from its arrays to mobile devices is just a cheap trick to circumvent established laws and court decisions.

What difference does it make if you have your own little antenna — supposedly a single connection — directly tied to you or if there is a combined signal?

For one thing they both do the same thing. The results are identical. The idea behind the one little antenna per digital device solution is to create a loophole, a technicality.

Isn’t this the sort of thing we all hate? People getting away with something because of a technicality? So now it’s okay if a technicality screws ABC or one of the big broadcasters?

We hate these huge broadcasting companies so much, yet we will do anything to get their content as cheaply as possible. Even if we have to bypass the established system.

Oh, and we are always telling these folks that they should listen to us and put their content on YouTube. It’s for their own good, we say. It’s free publicity! But then, once the content creator says that they are not interested in this “free publicity,” we are all outraged.

Yes, well maybe these jokers are the idiots we all say they are. But they are making the millions while we are watching little YouTube videos on tablets and giggling to ourselves.

Some of you pick your noses in the process, right?

So now there is this Aereo product. Who didn’t see this as a trick from the beginning? A ridiculous scam. With pictures of the inventor holding his cute little antenna and everything. All that was missing was a laugh track.

Everyone stayed silent hoping that nobody noticed. Now that they’ve noticed, everyone is up in arms, offended. “How could they do this?”

But here’s the real problem with the Aereo situation.

What users want is real control of their content. They want to get it wherever and whenever, and they want to get it on the net whenever and wherever.

The networks have obliged to some extent by charging for their programs without commercials or streaming them with embedded commercials. That seems fair. At least it’s a step in the right direction.

Over time, the big networks have developed a marketing scheme that involves local channels — affiliates. The networks have an obligation to these affiliates. It’s old-fashioned, but it works and it’s established. These stations serve the local community with local news and local advertisers who pay for the whole thing.

These networks do not want me watching the Cincinnati ABC instead. The fact that I can or can’t somehow watch the Cincinnati ABC is besides the point.

And make no mistake, this is where the Aereo idea leads. The networks are obligated to their local affiliate to prevent it. Because of this real obligation, the mob condemns these folks. Why? Because it is not an Internet-friendly model.

The Internet changes everything, say we!

Everyone must abide by the new rules, say we!

So who died and made this happen?

This is bullcrap. And it is about time the community stopped playing this silly game.

It’s particularly disturbing in this Aereo case because the tech solution was such an obviously sneaky cheap trick in the first place.

And we all knew it. It’s just that everyone hoped nobody would notice.

For, I’m John C. Dvorak.

Editor: Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in April 23 oral arguments in fact said that “if”Aereo’s antenna solution was intended as a workaround the broadcasters, he “didn’t have a problem with that.”  read his comments here.

aNewDomain co-founder John C. Dvorak is well known via his columns in PC Magazine and Dow Jones Marketwatch. He’s everybody’s favorite crank, always ready with news commentary that’s straight up and unfiltered. A national gold award winner for best online column from the American Business Editors Association two years in a row — and a featured regular guest analyst on CNBC — John C. Dvorak is one of the most respected business tech columnists, editors and authors in the trade. Find him here at aNewDomain and at the No Agenda Show with John C. Dvorak and Adam Curry.


  • A couple points:

    1) Monday Night Football is on ESPN, so it’s not available via antenna – although I know that is the kind of nitpicking JCD hates.
    2) How does Aereo hurt local advertising? Aereo streams local stations and is presumably for people that are too lazy to put an antenna up on their house. That Aereo is charging $8 a month should not matter to the likes of ABC because they are providing more eyeballs to view ABC’s local ads.

  • Love the cynisim, John C never disappoints in that department… and yes it is a cheap trick we all agree on that, everything else is just a good old media circus :)

  • Aereo is in demand by those who have or are considering dropping their cable subscriptions. The more people that cut the cord and shift their source to Aereo, the less the cable companies will pay to carry the network content. That’s why the networks care – they make more revenue from cable subscribers than from OTA viewers. For cable subscribers, the networks get ad revenue AND cable transmission fees. Always follow the $$ to get to the bottom line.

    What Aereo is doing is legal and I’m glad they’re doing it. The cable companies (and telcos) are among the most hated companies in North America because of how they conduct their business. They are not treating customer needs and wants as a priority. Those businesses are beyond ripe for disruption.

  • So it’s a cheap trick. How many innovations that changed the way we do things were simply cheap tricks to get around a law or common practice?

  • Regarding the point about Monday Night Football, I believe your local team broadcasts on game day via over the air television (requiring a separate antenna) but all the other league games require cable. However, when our nation changed over to all digital, people were pretty much lead to think that their old TVs weren’t any good and they needed kludgy cable boxes and an array of remotes to keep on watching their local team. Sure, with more choices come higher prices but now there’s skyrocketing cost with what used to be available by just hitting the on button and turning the channel (as was the case previously for a local sports team’s road games).

    If I’m not mistaken, I think there’s a valid analogy to radio over the airwaves. Sure major market radio is pretty much cheesey and bad, but switching it on now and then to get talk radio, news, sports pay-by-play, or even “classic rock” and some hack DJ nattering on and on while driving in your car is still an easily available option, because, a radio is a radio and still comes with an antenna like it always has. Listeners can avail themselves of additional streaming services like Spotfiy or Pandora, various ‘Net radio apps, Sirius, etc. if they so chose. I think Aereo is merely a hyped-up version of a similar arrangement. The current situation seems to require an exclusive arrangement with the cable company every time you want to so much as switch rooms to watch TV. No wonder people despise the cable companies. It’s worse than not “an Internet friendly model”. It’s a model that is hostile to viewers/customers.

  • Do you? John, what do you think? Changing heds is easy. Finding one you love is hard.

  • The cord cutting points made here are ones I agree with … speaking as a columnist, not a journalist covering this, seems to me that you’ve got a technology that, while it is a workaround, does deliver value the local affiliates can’t. And the main issue in the case now in Supreme Court is whether Aereo is violating copyright, not whether it’s a valid or legal workaround. If it is violating copyright, then sure, the court will Barry Diller-backed Aereo to pay. But if the stations are just out to kill Aereo — knock it out to slow their own bleed and deny cord cutters — then their case is looking weak and backward, no?

    I echo the point about the advertisers, below, too. If WABC et al were smart, they’d join up with Aereo or find compatible ways to compete by getting their broadcasts to stream on devices. Just my opinion.

    As always, John C. Dvorak makes a well thought-out argument, though. Always happy to have our co-founder writing on the pages of anewdomain …

  • I’ve been an enthused Aereo supporter, mainly for my own benefit, but John makes an interesting argument that gives me pause.

  • Wrong a lot of cranky, “get of my lawn” blah blah blah .. but wrong .. broadcasters are given over the air bandwidth to serve the public, they don’t own it and they can’t charge us for it. Everything broadcast over the airwaves is available to any one.. that’s the law…… Everything is a technicality…. I do have the right to rent an antenna .. I have to watch the commercials so the advertisers get the eyeballs they pay for. who paid JD off?

  • I was considering Aereo because I am in a really bad location for receiving OTA broadcasts. Even after dropping over $100 for an amplified antenna, the only channel I can get consistently is ABC, and 20% of the time I can’t even get that. As somebody else mentioned, Aereo does not bypass the local affiliates model… if I had signed up for Aereo, I would have been receiving the same broadcasts that I was trying to pick up on my antenna.

    I ended up not buying an Aereo subscription, because screw it.

  • You’re missing the one critical point, John. You don’t get to watch the Cincinatti ABC affiliate on Aereo. You only get to watch the ABC affiliate you already get on your own personal antenna, if you had one, where you live. That is crucial for the Aereo scheme to work and remain legal. That way, your local affiliate and local advertisers are protected. You are watching the EXACT SAME programs, local news, and ads you would be watching if you were sitting in your living room watching your own TV via your own rabbit ears or outdoor antenna. Not some station you picked out of a list from across the country. That is the entire basis of Aereo’s position that they are not changing or altering the network or local broadcast one bit, they are just making it available to their customers wherever they happen to be and to whatever device they want to watch it on. And that is great.