Locast Free TV Next In The Barrel?

Several years after the questionable SCOTUS smackdown of Aereo, upstart Locast is similarly attempting to stream antenna television… to those who may not have reception or prefer to watch on something other than a television. Unlike the for-profit model of Aereo, which provided live television with DVR capabilities to customers via rented regional micro-antennas, Locast is a non-profit that pitches its more simplistic, straight-up streaming service as legal retransmission.

Ever since the dawn of TV broadcasting in the mid-20th Century, non-profit organizations have provided “translator” TV stations as a public service. Where a primary broadcaster cannot reach a receiver with a strong enough signal, the translator amplifies that signal with another transmitter, allowing consumers who otherwise could not get the over-the-air signal to receive important programming, including local news, weather and of course, sports. Locast.org provides the same public service, except instead of an over-the-air signal transmitter, we provide the local broadcast signal via online streaming.

Look, I can’t tell you if it’s legal. And it may not even matter. As the studio system can make life exceedingly difficult and expensive, should they take issue. Given the large sums of retransmission money negotiated from cable, satellite, and streaming services, the threat of legal action certainly seems like a clear and present danger. But “the system” can also apply pressure in other ways — much as we saw Amazon encouraged to remove the HDHomeRun app from its app store this week.

Anyhow, go ahead and check Locast out while the going is good – streaming in 10 markets, including my recently added Washington, DC metro. Video can be accessed via web browser, iOS, Android, Roku, and now Fire TVs. Prepare for so-so quality and incessant solicitation for donations. Which isn’t entirely unreasonable given operating expenses and the pain that is likely coming their way.

11 thoughts on “Locast Free TV Next In The Barrel?”

  1. Locast IS going to be sued, and they will lose as usual. The robber barons are never going to easily let lose of their obscene profits. Want to bet that the begging for money/”donations” is likely what the judge will cite when he rules against them?

  2. Begging for donations is not a trigger for illegality, as they are a legitimate non-profit. PBS does it too.

    They will absolutely be sued and they will lose because they don’t have the resources to fight it, unless the ACLU or EFF steps in to help.

  3. They recently went a step beyond what a non-profit organization like PBS and local public broadcast stations do: ASK for donations. You don’t have to do so, it’s optional (periodically they run their “telethon”-style donation promotions between programs). Locast used to ask for donations, then began suggesting $5 a month. But now there’s a nag message when you start it up. After 10-15 min. the stream will STOP…. blank screen. The nag screen then comes up again, then the program comes back, and so on, and again, rinse & repeat.

    The website is still calling this service FREE, which is deceptive, IMO. To me, they’re flirting into Aereo territory. It’s no longer a donation model if you make it mandatory. The guy (and it’s one individual) is using the legality of an RF retransmission through a “translator” (meaning transmitter) and stretching it to apply for internet broadcast distribution (streaming), then this latest forced subscription model works against making the case for its legitimacy.

    Yes, the expense of setting up and running this service in each individual market isn’t cheap and needs to be paid for, even without making a profit, but you can’t do it in a deceptive manner. He actually is looking to be sued, so far the broadcasters and content providers have shied away from it. I’ve read that even some of the cable companies and possibly Dish have told customers to use Locast during blackout disputes!


  4. Err, PBS asks for donations all the time. They’re known for it.

    Interrupting programs to ask for money renders the free service garbage, but that isn’t itself illegal and doesn’t have any impact whatsoever on whether Locast itself is a non-profit. It is, and their defense hinges on that.

  5. Their defense may hinge on that, but the offense wouldn’t… they’d say it’s our content, you’ve no right to retransmit in this manner without our consent or compensation. Also the highest court in the land already ruling against something similar is a serious deficit that they’re starting from. Again, I’m no lawyer. Just a cranky muppet shouting from the rafters.


  6. From all my research Locast is legal, and while it may be a fine point of legality with the most recent practices, I don’t think the broadcasters are going to waste money on lawyers to sue Locast for an uncertain outcome that may not even get them a preliminary injunction with regards to any of Locast’s practices, which would delay a decision for many years wow Locust continues to do what does as of today. Instead, the broadcasters will spend their money on their historically most potent and successful weapon: their lobbyists.

    NAB will simply have Congress amend the law making Locast utterly, clearly, and without loophole language, illegal. This can be done in a jiffy and for far less money and shorter time, and all with virtually no press or noise, and Locust will have no means of counter-lobbying Congress. Areo got a lot of press because of Barry Diller and his ability to promote and publicize, and because Mr. Diller has been an interesting figure to the Press. Locust has no such profile and can be best, easily swatted out of existence without much noise by our Congress paid for by NAB.

  7. Remember that SCOTUS did backflips and somersaults to try to make it clear that the Areo ruling applies to Areo only and should not be seen as applying to any other similar technology nor Cloud DVR services and storage, etc.. For the majority of SCOTUS, Areo passing all the tests the lower courts applied was irrelevant because it just did’t feel right to them because Areo looked like an MVPD, acted like an MVPD, so it was an MVPD and, therefore, Areo was subject to the Act governing MVPD’s and Areo needs to PAY for the retransmissions since the broadcasters could claim loss, especially since Areo was a for profit entity and charging fees for both the live stream and DVR services.

    Meanwhile, the minority, led by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, did not like what Areo was doing, and essentially believed that Areo was making money from loopholes in the current law because the Areo service was an entity Congress had not anticipated because Areo was sufficiently different from an MVPD because Areo passed all the tests from every single Lower Court all the way to the minority of SCOTUS. The minority of SCOTUS may have believed Areo was a rogue entity, but they also believe Areo was legal, and that it was up to Congress to amend or legislate, not a Court. Considering how the majority of SCOTUS we’re tripping over themselves trying to head off inevitable confusion, quite likely action against all manner of place shifting technology and servers or acting like servers in the home for all sorts of copyright content, it seems that the majority of SCOTUS ruled in error regarding Areo because they used a different, unique standard just for Areo and Areo only. As long as Locast remains non-profit (and non-profits can make money and have huge bank accounts) and NOT REQUIRE payment to access the content (but can continue to solicit donstions all the want) and stay away from offering Locast DVR services (3rd parties can make a DVR device for Areo with storage in the private home–like Amazon recast, etc.), SCOTUS is nevet going to refer to the Areo decision.

  8. In the previous Post-it correction: it should have read that a third party can make a DVR device for Locast (not Areo as typed).

  9. I would imagine there are things they could be contested. How do they ensure regional-only relay, do broadcasters take their word for it. What thresholds must licensees meet? They are not relaying the the video untouched. They are transcoding. And in my limited experience it doesn’t look great at times and I’ve heard reports of audio/video sync, which presents the content owner in a poor light. What sort of qos and quality thresholds must licensees meet?

    ANYHOW, shortly after posting, I came to the same possible conclusion as you. That it could be too risky to challenge in court. It would obviously draw attention to the service, which they wouldn’t want, and if they lose for whatever reason it validates the service and could spawn others, including non-profits run for the benefit of say a Sling TV. However, they can still apply pressure in other ways (app stores, for example) and I think you’re right, they could lobby some policy changes to clarify streaming relays are not acceptable (for some of the reasons I mentioned above).

  10. I think Locast is a great service and $5 a month donation is not too much to ask considering the cost to doing the research, setting up an antenna, buying the hardware DVR, etc. The one lacking feature is DVR but I found this app FitzyTV (http://www.fitzytv.com) for my FireTV that lets me record my Locast. I believe they have Android TV app as well.

Comments are closed.