An advocacy group launched a service Thursday that provides live streams of local television channels free in New York City. Locast.org, operated by the Ronkonkoma, L.I.–based Sports Fans Coalition NY, will let anyone in the New York market stream 14 broadcast channels, including the local affiliates of CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox, via the internet. The group also plans to have apps for Android and Roku devices that will let users watch the channels on connected TV sets.
The coalition argues that broadcast stations—and the sports programming they carry—were intended to be viewed free of charge over the public airwaves. And it insists that as a nonprofit, it is allowed under copyright law to make a secondary transmission of a local broadcast signal.
The group is a recently formed arm of the Washington, D.C.–based Sports Fans Coalition. The organization, which opposes media consolidation, has targeted New York to make the biggest possible splash, as well as to provide a service: The dense urban landscape largely prevents cable TV cord cutters from receiving channels over the air unless they can connect to a rooftop antenna.
Locast.org is reminiscent of Aereo, the Queens-based startup shut down in 2014 after losing a legal case brought by broadcasters over its re-transmission of their signals. But Sports Fans Coalition founder David Goodfriend, a former lawyer for Dish Network and Air America Radio, said the key difference is his group is not doing this for profit.
“The copyright statute’s intent is to ensure the public-interest mission of broadcasting is served,” he said in an interview. “The only reason not to do this would be fear of being sued.” And Locast almost certainly will be sued.
Goodfriend called Locast essentially a 21st-century version of the progenitors of cable TV—services that would pick up broadcast signals and re-transmit them in rural areas that the original transmissions couldn’t reach. But one legal expert said that Locast might be on shaky ground, however, because transmitting via the internet could be seen as a form of copying.
“I think their chances of getting sued are 100%,” said Jonathan Handel, an entertainment and technology lawyer at TroyGould in Los Angeles, who covered the Aereo battle for The Hollywood Reporter. “And the chance of getting sued and losing is pretty close to that.”
The National Association of Broadcasters, which led the industry’s fight against Aereo, also promised trouble. “Over the years numerous services [including Aereo] have tried to find creative ways to skirt the communications and copyright laws that protect local broadcasters and our tens of millions of viewers,” a spokesman said in a statement. “We are deeply skeptical that this service will survive legal scrutiny where its predecessors have failed.”