Baseball and football games are a staple of free network television, but the National Football League and Major League Baseball recently threatened to go cable-only if the TV streaming company Aereo continues to broadcast.
Aereo captures over-the-air TV content that's broadcast for free and streams it to users' computers and devices for a monthly subscription fee.
TV and broadcast companies have been fighting Aereo tooth and nail, and last week they petitioned the Supreme Court to stop Aereo in its tracks.
Yesterday, it was revealed that the NFL and MLB filed an amicus brief last week urging the Supreme Court to side with broadcasters against Aereo.
The argument against Aereo is in part that content copyright holders must authorize networks and broadcasters to re-transmit their programming, but Aereo claims its streaming content is not technically a re-broadcast. The company contends it's actually a private broadcast because each subscriber's content is transmitted individually.
Broadcasters don't see it that way, and the NFL and MLB see Aereo as a threat to their business model.
"If copyright holders lose their exclusive retransmission licensing rights and the substantial benefits derived from those rights when they place programming on broadcast stations, those stations will become less attractive mediums for distributing copyrighted content," the leagues' lawyers wrote in the amicus brief.
And here's the not-so-thinly-veiled threat: "The option for copyright holders will be to move that content to paid cable networks (such as ESPN and TNT) where Aereo-like services cannot hijack and exploit their programming without authorization," the brief continued.
The MLB and NFL emphasized the federal ramifications of this case, and explained that together they account for about $100 million of the $300 million that broadcasters collect in licensing fees overall.
"The court's intervention is now necessary to restore clarity and certainty in this area and to prevent the unraveling of marketplace built upon the licensing of rights rather than the expropriation of such rights through technological chicanery," their message said, with possibly the best-ever use of the word "chicanery."
Barking and biting
Faced with Aereo's unauthorized internet re-broadcasting of over-the-air TV signals, the two major sports leagues aren't the only groups who've threatened to take their balls and go home.
Fox issued similar threats back in April, and other broadcasters, including CBS, have threatened drastic measures, too.
Meanwhile, Aereo keeps on expanding, and the service is now available on Android and in cities all over the US.
- Unraveling Aereo: is there really a case against the TV-to-internet streaming company? We asked an expert.