That’s still a big question for broadcast TV investors today following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Friday to hear the industry’s claim that Aereo infringes on their copyrights with it streams their over-the-air programming without permission. Most broadcast company stocks including Sinclair, Gannett, and Gray Television are down today, slightly more than the overall market. But Wall Street analysts — who typically like to encourage people to buy stocks — mostly urge investors to relax. The most prevalent concern is that broadcasters, if they lose at the Supreme Court, might make good on their threats to only offer their hit shows on pay TV. That could sting as they “lose reach, ratings from broadcast-only homes, and reverse network [compensation]” from affiliates, says Janney Capital’s Tony Wible. Pivotal Research’s Brian Wieser also fears that if broadcasters scale back their over-the-air shows then “the political ill-will that would follow… would be a major negative.” And political leverage is broadcasters’ ace in the hole. If they lose at the Supreme Court then “we expect they would pursue legislation and involve Congress” to change the law against Aereo, Credit Suisse’s Michael Senno says. The industry has one of the most powerful lobby groups in Washington. Even if lawmakers are unmoved, he says not to worry: Aereo doesn’t have a compelling service, he says, and cable or satellite companies that might want to create a copycat service to avoid paying retransmission consent fees face “a number of hurdles” before they could “leverage this technology, if ever.” Wells Fargo’s Marci Ryvicker also tells investors to chill. “Most retrans/carriage agreements have been signed and are relatively long term in nature (i.e. anywhere from 3 to 10 years),” she says. And since the high court is just ruling on broadcasters’ effort to bar Aereo from doing business while lower courts weigh the copyright issue, after a loss networks “can still proceed in 2nd circuit [court] where there will likely be greater discovery and tests of Aereo’s technology, which wasn’t done in the injunction phase.”
Would The Supreme Court Upend The TV Business If It Sides With Aereo?
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