Locast lights up Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh
This expansion brings Locast’s reach to 54% of the U.S. population. (Getty/Joecho-16)

The free broadcast television streaming service Locast has added a 35th market and a new second-person plural pronoun, “yinz.”

The Washington-based non-profit announced Friday morning that it had expanded to the Pittsburgh market, home of one of America’s oldest broadcast stations as well as that regional shorthand for “you ones.”

The service’s press release says Locast’s service for area residents (the Pittsburgh market covers Morgantown, W. Va.) delivers 40-plus stations, including NBC affiliate WPXI, WTAE (ABC), KDKA (CBS, which went on the air in 1949), and WPGH (Fox), as well as PBS, CW and other local stations.

This expansion, following the additions of the Raleigh-Durham market and Columbus in June, brings Locast’s reach to 54% of the U.S. population. At the Columbus launch, Locast said it had hit “more than 2.8 million registered users nationwide.”

Locast does not pay retransmission fees to broadcasters, relying on a clause in the Copyright Act of 1976 that exempts non-profits providing secondary transmissions “without any purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage, and without charge to the recipients of the secondary transmission other than assessments necessary to defray the actual and reasonable costs of maintaining and operating the secondary transmission service.”

Locast is free to watch but requests a $5 monthly donation to cover those costs. Viewers who don’t ante up get interrupted after 15 minutes of viewing with an ad encouraging donations — “If you’re sick of being ripped off by services that cost too much, please do your part to keep Locast alive” — that then kicks them back to the program guide.

It also offers free service to up to 25,000 qualifying students, first responders and low-income households nationwide through its Locast Cares program.

“We haven’t disclosed the number of donors,” Locast spokesman Marc Lumpkin wrote in an email Friday. “However, we have stated that the majority of our users do not donate.”

He declined to offer an updated figure for total users, saying Locast stopped releasing new numbers after the Columbus launch.

Other broadcasters dislike Locast

Broadcasters have been unamused by Locast since it launched in January 2018 as a project of Sports Fans Coalition NY, a group founded to advocate for local viewers who find themselves cut off from local teams’ games by retransmission fights and other local blackouts.

In 2019, ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC sued Locast in United States District Court for the Southern District of New York for copyright infringement. Their complaint says “Locast is nothing like the local booster services contemplated by Congress in creating this narrow exemption” and alleges that “Locast’s founding, funding, and operations reveal its decidedly commercial purposes.”

AT&T kicked in a $500,000 donation to Sports Fans Coalition NY in June of 2019, which the Dallas firm said was meant to support the group’s work to “make free broadcast content available to consumers and offer them more choice.”

The broadcasters’ lawsuit remains in progress. Zamir Ahmed, communications vice president at the National Association of Broadcasters, did not expand on the group’s initial endorsement of that lawsuit in which NAB said it “wholeheartedly backs” the challenge against Locast, which it described as a firm “thinly disguised as a not-for-profit entity that mirrors failed predecessors Aereo and FilmOn in its bid to legitimize the theft of local TV broadcast signals.”

Locast, meanwhile, recently added support for viewer profiles and favorite channels. It offers service via web browsers, iOS, Android, Roku, Fire TV, TiVo, Apple TV, among other platforms, all of which check a viewer’s location via various methods to limit viewership to local users.