The seemingly never-ending battle over Aereo, the online streaming provider, took a step towards getting ugly last week. In April, broadcasters failed in an attempt to shut down the service. After that failure, News Corp COO Chase Carey said that the corporation could simply shift Fox to a cable network to avoid Aereo. In response to that, John McCain introduced a-la-carte cable legislation in the Senate, which was designed to combat any providers that attempted to pull programming to combat Aereo.
Now, the sports leagues are getting involved with the situation. The NFL and MLB argued in court that Aereo would force them to shift the World Series, Super Bowl, and their regular seasons to cable television. Via Broadcasting & Cable:
"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," they wrote to the court. "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."
We've already seen the continuing shift to cable by the major sports leagues. Monday Night Football ended a 36 season run on broadcast TV in 2005, shifting to ESPN for the 2006 season. NFL Network's Thursday Night Football package has expanded from eight to 13 games, and could expand further. ESPN will be airing one of the Wild Card playoff games starting next season. MLB aired more Postseason games on cable than on broadcast, including the entire Division Series and NLCS. They only air one regular season game per week on broadcast, and that will be changing to an unknown degree starting next year. College basketball is also shifting towards cable, and the National Semifinals of the NCAA Tournament will be airing exclusively on cable this April as opposed to CBS.
The major exception of course, is the NFL's regular season. While two games each week air on cable, those are the *only* two games that air on cable – a maximum of 14 other games air on broadcast networks, including NBC's Sunday Night Football. The NFL is arguing against Aereo because they fear the provider could eventually launch its own version of Sunday Ticket, offering multiple feeds for CBS and Fox so you can watch whatever game you want, as opposed to the one designated by your affiliate. Currently, Aereo only allows you to watch your local affiliate feeds, but that's not stopping the NFL from arguing against what could happen in the future.
This is definitely something to keep an eye on. The last bastion of regular live sports on broadcast television is the NFL, and the networks would be devastated if the league and their 20 million viewers moved on to greener pastures. The NFL is locked in to its current partners through 2021, and a shift to cable likely wouldn't end up happening until after these current contracts are completed. But money talks, and if the NFL feels that Aereo is costing them money, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see them make a potentially drastic change.