Barry Diller, the main backer of Internet TV streaming service Aereo, has reiterated his view that its chances of a successful outcome in the Supreme Court copyright case are 50-50, while admitting to being more confident of such an eventuality. He also suggested that for his IAC company, the investment was financially meaningless, but the Court’s decision could have profound effect on the development of technology.
Interviewed for CNN’s Reliable Sources, Diller said he had always thought that Aereo was very much, just a simply a technological update to the Betamax case, which was why he thought the most interesting way to look at Aereo was to look back and say: “What would have happened if instead of the Supreme Court allowing Betamax to continue, to live, what if they had shut it down? What would our life be like without a video recorder; what would our television and communications be like without the video tape recorder?”
In terms of such innovations, he suggested that the Supreme Court could have relatively easily, have held back such developments under pressure from vested interests. “Certainly every vested interest at the time wanted to stop it. All of the content owners said: ‘How dare you think you can record our programme and not pay us every time?’. So they could have said ‘No’. Well, they didn’t; progress happened.”
Admitting that he had “an axe to grind”, he said he believed that Aereo was the same thing. “If they stop it, which they very well may, then I don’t think it’s the end of any world, because we’ll probably not really know because you can’t put yourself twenty years, you know, you can’t make that leap on a maybe kind of. but I think what will happen if it’s stopped, it will have profound effects on the development of technology.”
Agreeing that if the service was stopped, it would not be the end of the world, he said: “Aereo as a financial issue for my company is meaningless. We don’t have a very big investment. We’re a minority share holder. it is, it is possibly an alternative to a completely closed system and I like that. I’ve always liked that in my life.
Should Aereo win, he didn’t think Aereo would hurt the broadcasters. “What may happen though is that other people will find other methodologies separate from Aereo or using Aereo as a licence or something like that, but they’ll find other things to go direct to the consumer based upon the consumer’s right to receive free broadcast television without paying the toll which is their right.
He contended that Aereo was essentially, simply an antenna device that replaces technologically what you used to have to do to go up to your rooftop and erect an antenna.
Refuting the suggestion from Justice Roberts that Aereo only existed to get around the copyright law, Diller argued that the truth was not only was he wrong, what Aereo was doing is complying with the law. “So rather than saying it’s a gimmick, what we did is constructed a technological advance within law as we understood it. I understand that free, over-the-air broadcasting is the quid pro quo that broadcasters got for getting a free spectrum. Getting free spectrum which the public owned. Up until technology came along there was no issue with that because that was the only way you could get it. Cable comes along, all these things come along, all the interests get involved, all this stuff happens. must-carry happens.”
For Diller, the one fundamental of broadcasting since the very beginning, was that, “if you can put your finger out there and you can, you’re in sight of a transmitter, you can get that programming free”.
He admitted to leaving the April 22 hearing “more” confident of winning, whilst acknowledging that there was no ‘Plan B’, should Aereo lose. “I think there’s a fifty per cent chance it will lose, of course. Yes, always I thought that, but I did not think that it would become this important a moment in the world of technology.”