|Developer||Sports Fans Coalition|
|Launch date||January 2018|
Locast is a non-profit streaming service offering local, over-the-air television. Funded by donations, the service premiered in New York City in January 2018 and has expanded to other American metropolitan areas.
Locast was founded by attorney David Goodfriend, who views the service as a test case for the proposition that non-profit organizations are not obligated to pay broadcasters for the right to re-transmit their signals. That proposition threatens a revenue stream worth billions of dollars to broadcasters.
In July 2019, the parent companies of the four major U.S. networks sued Locast, charging that the service violates copyright law.
Goodfriend was a media legal adviser to an FCC commissioner and an executive at Dish Network. He conceived of Locast while lecturing at Georgetown Law on the demise of Aereo, which offered over-the-air television signals via streaming without negotiating with broadcasters for the privilege as required by the retransmission consent provision of the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act. After broadcasters sued, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that the company had violated copyright law. Aereo declared bankruptcy shortly after. Goodfriend surmised that a non-profit organization would be exempt from the provision. Locast has become his proof of concept. The name is a contraction of "local" and "broadcast".
Goodfriend initially funded the service via a line of credit from an undisclosed entrepreneur. The site now solicits user donations. In January 2018, Locast went online in New York as a service of the Sports Fans Coalition, a non-profit advocacy group chaired by Goodfriend. The city's television stations were neither notified nor compensated. Broadcast signals are received by a four-foot antenna mounted on the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Manhattan. Locast has since expanded the service to other regions of the country.
On July 31, 2019, The Walt Disney Company, CBS Corporation, NBCUniversal and Fox Corporation – the respective parent companies of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox – filed a lawsuit against Locast in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York seeking a permanent injunction to shut down Locast. The four media companies claim that its retransmissions of television station signals violate their copyrights and threaten their retransmission agreements with conventional and virtual multichannel television providers. They also accuse Locast of acting on behalf of AT&T (owner of satellite provider DirecTV and virtual television provider AT&T TV Now) and satellite provider Dish Network, suggesting that its ties to the two companies – by way of AT&T's $500,000 donation to Locast shortly after its founding, and Goodfriend's previous service as a lobbyist for Dish – undermine its nonprofit status.
Reacting to the lawsuit, Dish and AT&T said they support choice in how consumers access local broadcast stations. AT&T had previously added the Locast app to its DirecTV and U-verse platforms, as did Dish to its Hopper box. During a carriage dispute in July 2019, AT&T steered customers to Locast as a way of circumventing a blackout of CBS-owned stations. Six months earlier, Charter Communications did the same as a means of circumventing the blackout of a playoff football game. In their complaint, the broadcasters allege that the shared motivation of Goodfriend and his satellite benefactors has been to "devalue retransmission rights."
Goodfriend's legal argument rests with Locast being offered by a non-profit organization. He cites 17 U.S.C. 111(a)(5). of the Copyright Act, which waives the retransmission consent provision if "the secondary transmission" is made by a nonprofit organization that doesn't gain a commercial advantage nor charge recipients beyond the cost of maintenance. A broadcast relay station, he argues, does the same thing. The broadcasters counter that the local stations must still grant permission for their signals to be retransmitted. More broadly, Goodfriend suggests that Americans, having given broadcasters free use of the public radio spectrum, should get something of value in return, even if they rely on a streaming service instead of an antenna.
For the litigants as well as Locast allies, much revenue is at stake. By not paying retransmission fees, Locast is threatening to undercut a revenue stream that, by 2019, was worth about $10 billion to broadcasters and adds about $12 a month to the cost of cable and satellite subscriptions. New York Times reporter Edmund Lee wrote that, symbolically, Locast's modest New York antenna represents "a threat to the entire TV-industrial complex."
Locast is only available in the metropolitan regions where it has placed an antenna. These regions include:
- New York City
- Dallas–Fort Worth
- Washington, D.C.
- Sioux Falls
- Rapid City
- Los Angeles
- San Francisco
Locast is accessible via a web browser, iOS apps and Android apps, as well as AppleTV, Roku and FireTV devices, and can be cast to a larger screen using AirPlay and Google Cast. After registering, viewers are presented with a programming grid from which to select a channel. Programming is periodically interrupted to solicit for donations until one is made, with a suggested minimum contribution of $5.00 per month. The service offers no recording features.
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- AMERICAN BROADCASTING COMPANIES, INC., et. al. v. DAVID R. GOODFRIEND and SPORTS FANS COALITION NY, INC. (UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK July 31, 2019). Text
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