Wall Street is still buzzing about U.S. District Court Judge Alison Nathan’s decision yesterday that TV streaming service Aereo can continue to do business while broadcasters — including ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBCUniversal — pursue their copyright infringement suits against it. Had the decision gone the other way “it could have marked the end of Aereo,” Barclays Equity Research’s Anthony DiClemente says this morning. Wells Fargo Securities’ Marci Ryvicker adds that “The most alarming sentence [in the decision] was: the ‘Plaintiff’s have not shown a likelihood of success [in their copyright case] on the merits’.” She warns that the news could ding stock prices today for major market TV station owners. Aereo, which is backed by IAC’s Barry Diller, takes local over-the-air signals and streams them to subscribers who pay $12 a month. It doesn’t pay anything to the stations themselves. Ryvicker urges investors not to over-react. She has tried Aereo and says it “is NOT a compelling product” due to “limited product support and a cumbersome ‘remote’.” As a result, she says, it is “not a real threat to the TV ecosystem.” But it could be if cable and satellite companies tap it, or the technology, so they can continue to offer local TV signals even when stations threaten to yank their programming in a retransmission consent dispute. Vijay Jayant of ISI: International Strategy and Investment Group shares the view that although the case “is far from over,” if Aereo does win then it “is likely to change the existing retransmission payment structure.”
If broadcasters can’t beat pay TV, then Lazard Capital Markets’ Barton Crockett says maybe it’s time to join them by ditching their transmitters and becoming cable channels. Sure, they’d lose about 10% of the population that depends on free, over-the-air TV. “But these are mainly lower income homes worth little to advertisers,” Crockett says. “And the offset is that broadcasters could potentially sell their licenses for other purposes, like mobile broadband, and reap a windfall.”
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