Deborah D. McAdams /

04.22.2014 05:00 PM


McAdams On: Wheeler’s Wheedle


I walked out of Tom Wheeler’s speech beside a broadcast attorney shaking his head, saying, “he seems so nice.” The FCC chairman had just delivered a keynote at the NAB Show, and in true-rock-star- rather-than-public-servant-fashion, he was whisked out of the room faster than a president under threat level whatever. Which was ironic, given his posture regarding this Administration’s crusade to kick broadcasters off the spectrum and further consolidate public airwaves.


There really wasn’t much new. It was the usual dual mélange about how much he loves broadcasters as first responders—air kiss air kiss—and how the fed is going to squeeze them off the spectrum anyway, because, well…


“Verizon and AT&T are exploring new lines of business based on broadcast LTE. Verizon paid $1 billion for NFL rights What does that tell you? They’re all embracing something that looks startlingly like what you do,” he said.


Except for that it will not be free to anyone, ever, anywhere. Two companies ultimately will own what once were considered public airwaves, and only those who pay them will have access. That leaves out a significant chunk of the voter base that typically rolls Democratic.


This is what’s meant by “the public interest.”


Just fyi.


(GGD from Wikipedia: LTE is a fourth-generation cellular networking standard called Long Term Evolution).


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04.10.2014 05:38 AM

McAdams On: TV as We Know It


TV is at a threshold of being an entirely different concept, with Comcast the likely impetus. It has to be. Its primary business is heading south.


The pay-TV exodus is establishing momentum. Last year was the first full year to yield an overall decline. It wasn’t much; about a quarter of a million. There are still more than 100 million households in the United States paying for TV. That’s out of 115.2 million total, according to U.S Census figures. Those last 15 million or so (depending on which D.C. lobby talks) haven’t, don’t and probably won’t pay for TV. Some live on reservations. Some are still reverberating from the Great Depression. Others still are too otherwise occupied to care.


So the provision of television content for money officially is no longer a growth business. The rope-in tactics of one-year rate discounts and bundling are not working any longer, especially since no one cares about VoIP enough to make it a revenue driver.


There’s only one path of least resistance for cable operators, and it’s broadband. Comcast already has 20.7 million broadband subscribers (out of 21.7 million total subscribers). Nearly 1.3 million signed up last year. It will have 30 million after the Time Warner Cable deal is done. If wired broadband is to become the future modality of TV delivery to the home—and it will unless legacy distribution goes on-demand in real time—Comcast will make it so. Dish, meanwhile, will take over out-of-home OTT delivery with aggressive moves in time- and place-shifting, and fixed wireless.


That leaves broadcasting. It’s clear the distribution side must evolve. Into what, remains to be seen, but it will have to be IP-based, simultaneously on-demand and live, with real-time, interactive metrics that can be used in a responsive production environment. In the meantime, the industry needs to continually hone and constantly improve the quality of its programming, which still dominates the market.


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04.24.2014 10:40 AM

McAdams On Aereo: Wordplay v. Science


TRANSPARENCY—The Aereo controversy is about many things. It’s about the use of language to manipulate public opinion. It’s about how the explosion of IP technology has left media law in the dust. It’s about the deterioration of ownership boundaries and the maturing public perception that all media content should be free in perpetuity.


What it is not about is technological innovation.

Aereo’s strategy of casting itself as a bootstrap upstart simply trying to friend consumers obscures the fact that it is backed by an e-commerce billionaire (Barry Diller) whose only interest in consumers is their routing numbers. It overlooks the reality that Aereo has been funded to the tune of $100 million and launched with every intention of getting sued by broadcasters, whose signals the service resells without permission.


Perhaps most effectively, it deflects attention away from Aereo’s use of junk science to circumvent copyright law.


This last point is pivotal. Aereo claims to have done something no other radio frequency engineer has ever achieved—to be able to pick up TV signals independently with dime-sized antennas stuffed into one large array. The first provisional patent application for this was filed in November of 2010, just 16 months before the service was launched.


That means that Mr. Kanojia and Joseph Thaddeus Lipowski (Aereo’s Patent Engineers) achieved in less than two years what the combined minds of RCA Labs, Zenith and LG have never been able to do—create a TV antenna that is a tiny fraction of the size of the radio frequency wave it’s designed to receive, which does so discretely even while packed together with thousands of others.


This presumed technological breakthrough is the foundation of Aereo’s legal defense. The legal precedent being employed here is the 2008 Cablevision case in which the cable operator’s remote DVR service was defined as one providing a “private performance,” and therefore not subject to copyright law.


Aereo claims to do the same thing by renting each of the tiny antennas to a specific user, who can then either watch live TV or access their own, digital copy of a program from cloud storage.


One inconsistency with Aereo’s use of the Cablevision precedent is that Cablevision pays retransmission and carriage fees for the initial signals. Aereo notably does not, and never so much as offered to negotiate for them. The other inconsistency is that the one-antenna-per-user model necessary for Aereo’s Cablevision defense defies physics according to every radio frequency engineer with whom I’ve spoken.


(Pete Putman provides an excellent illustration with “Deconstructing Aereo’s Patent.”) What Pete and his peers say is that Aereo’s arrays would have to act as one, large antenna that receives distinct TV signals and disseminates them to many people for a fee. This would make Aereo a multichannel video program distributor subject to copyright law, and by extension, retransmission consent:


This one-to-many configuration comprises a “public performance,” and is therefore subject to Copyright Law. The point of whether or not Aereo is a cable system was brought up several times by the justices, who also pressed Aereo’s attorney David Frederick on the antenna design.


“There’s no technological reason for you to have 10,000 dime-sized antennae, other than to get around copyright law,” Chief Justice John Roberts said to Frederick.


Aereo has in fact slowly backed off of its initial insistence that each tiny antenna is assigned to an individual user. Now it’s just “some.”

This means that Aereo could be found in violation of the Copyright Act simply because it fits the definition of a cable system, leaving the public-private performance question and the cloud out of it. And likely it would have been already in the lower courts had the plaintiff’s expert witness not phoned in his testimony.


The public perception that Aereo represents technological innovation that broadcasters are trying to quash out of greed is nothing but a successful public relations campaign, pure and simple. Otherwise, Aereo’s architects would have gladly demonstrated the technology to experienced RF engineers rather than blocking questions about the patent applications in lower court depositions.



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