Big Four Broadcast Networks Sue Locast In Effort To Block Its Local TV Streams

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The four major U.S. broadcast networks — ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox — have joined together to file a lawsuit against Locast, a non-profit organization that enables local TV streams.

Locast is accused of attempting to gather customer data and advance commercial interests, despite presenting itself as a non-profit “Robin Hood of television,” the suit maintains. Its “founding, funding and operations reveal its decidedly commercial purposes,” according to the complaint.

The suit, which aims to block Locast’s streams of local signals, was filed in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York.

Backers of Locast, which was founded in 2018, say it is adhering to copyright laws, which permit “boosters” of local broadcast signals, which are designed to secure the accessibility of broadcast signals.

The friction with Locast recalls a previous clash between traditional TV powers and Aereo, a Barry Diller-backed startup that was beaming TV signals directly to computers and claiming fair use. That threat went by the boards in 2014 after the Supreme Court found it was violating copyright laws. The service subsequently shut down.

As carriage battles get more intense, with customers cutting and shaving the cord and threatening the traditional TV bundle, Locast’s “boosting” of signals has come to be seen as a workaround that undermines pay-TV economics.

The other element in the situation is the migration of viewing into the internet-delivered, streaming realm, which has been a formidable hurdle for local stations to clear. After years of arduous effort, CBS secured local signals for its CBS All Access subscription service. But industry-wide efforts to bring the local sector into the streaming era have hit numerous technological and political road blocks.

Locast has factored prominently in recent carriage disputes. AT&T, which earlier this year donated $500,000 to Locast, urged its subscribers to seek out local signals via the service as CBS-owned stations in 14 markets went dark on the company’s satellite, internet and cable TV systems. The telecom giant also is in a standoff with Nexstar, in which 120 local stations have gone dark.

Dish Network, which is embroiled in a carriage fight with the formerly Fox-owned regional sports networks, also refers viewers to Locast.

Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, said Locast is “thinly disguised as a not-for-profit entity that mirrors failed predecessors Aereo and FilmOn in its bid to legitimize the theft of local TV broadcast signals.” He added that the NAB is “confident the courts will see through the AT&T/Dish/Locast ruse and uphold the integrity of U.S. copyright laws that sustain the economic viability of local broadcasting.”

The Wall Street Journal had the first report on the lawsuit.

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