ivi is dead - long live retransmission consent … for now

Jim Barthold, FierceIPTVApparently, ivi TV is dead. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals took a sledgehammer to the streaming Internet TV service, holding, among other things, that picking up over-the-air transmission signals and retransmitting them over the Internet would cause "irreparable harm" to a broadcasting industry that's already doing a fine job of that itself.

Feel free to read the ruling if you like; in fact I encourage it. It's been retransmitted at this site. Much of the court's decision deals with what constitutes a cable service--an antiquated term itself in these days of satellite, IPTV, cable and OTT. Another sizable portion deals with advertising and how broadcasters make an increasingly tenuous living off selling ads. And finally, there is a part that talks about retransmission consent.

"Retransmission consent is a substantial and growing revenue source for the television programming industry," the ruling says, adding a patina of respectability to a practice that many still question and that more than periodically rises up like an infected insect bite to the detriment of end viewers. "Plaintiffs (that's broadcasters to those of us who don't speak lawyer) obtain retransmission revenue by licensing the right to retransmit their copyrighted television programming to cable, satellite and telecommunications providers."

The copyrighted content is transmitted at times that broadcasters determine, generally jiving with their own "free" over-the-air transmissions.

"Negotiated Internet retransmissions--for example, on Hulu.com--typically delay Internet broadcasts as not to disrupt plaintiffs' broadcast distribution models, reduce the live broadcast audience, or divert the live broadcast audience to the Internet," the ruling also said.

On the surface, this all seems to reaffirm the relationship that broadcasters have built up with their audiences over time called appointment TV. The signals go out over-the-air and anyone with a digital TV--or digital-to-analog converter box--and a reasonably strong antenna, can pick them off the air and watch them. If viewers can't do that, they can subscribe to a pay-TV service which, in turn, picks up the signals over the air and retransmits them over fiber, coaxial cable, twisted pair, microwave, satellite, IP (yes, IP, the same medium used by ivi) to subscribers after paying broadcasters for the right to do so.

System critics argue that this also lets broadcasters charge for content that is being transmitted over spectrum that the government--that's us, despite what you'll be hearing in the next couple weeks as the major parties convene--has given them for free.

The appeals court may have cleared things up about ivi, which, frankly, was an idea that was never going to fly, but it left--at least to my mind--a whole bunch of unanswered questions.

Where does TV Everywhere sit in this? What's the deal with mobile digital TV--the broadcasters' own IP-based transmission service--is that OK because it belongs to the broadcasters? Who determines how much copyrighted content is worth, especially since it can ostensibly be received "free" with an antenna or a mobile DTV smartphone? And finally, what happens when broadcasters themselves decide to use the Internet and their Web sites to broadcast live content to an expanding online audience?

For now, ivi is dead and the idea of retransmitting real-time broadcast content over the Internet along with it. For now. It will be interesting to see what's next.--Jim

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