TV Answer Man, I went yesterday to sign up for Locast in case we lose our local ABC station on Dish and you couldn’t sign up. Do you know what the problem is? — Katie, Arlington, Virginia.
Katie, Locast was one of several ways you could continue watching a local channel (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox) even if your satellite, streaming or cable service doesn’t carry it due to a carriage dispute or another reason. But the free streaming service, which was available in roughly three dozen markets, yesterday suspended operations immediately. Yes, Locast is now no cast.
Locast this week lost a court ruling in a legal dispute with the broadcasters who content that the streamer violated their copyrights by transmitting their local channel signals without their permission. Normally, a pay TV service must pay the networks, or their affiliates, varying fees to offer them to a paying audience. But Locast claimed it was permitted to offer the signals for free because it was a non-profit and did not require its customers to pay a subscription fee.
However, Locast did interrupt programming to ask for $5 monthly “donations,” and the court agreed with the broadcasters that this skirted the law’s spirit. While the court didn’t shut Locast down, or rule specifically on the copyright claim, the ruling has made it difficult for Locast to operate without those $5 donations. Rather than continue to stream while seeking new funding, Locast issued a statement saying it was suspending service.
“As a non-profit, Locast was designed from the very beginning to operate in accordance with the strict letter of the law, but in response to the court’s recent rulings, with which we respectfully disagree, we are hereby suspending operations, effective immediately,” the company says at its web site.
Will Locast come back? It’s possible, but note that the broadcasters won a similar battle in 2014 against Aereo which was also delivering their signals without their permission. In that case, the court shut down Aereo, saying it was violating the copyright law. Even if Locast found new funding, the service would likely ultimately reach a similar fate.
So as of now, you will need an antenna or pursue another option to watch your local channel if you lose it in the Dish-Sinclair fee fight. By the way, Sports Business Journal has reported that Dish and Sinclair have signed a short-term carriage extension that pushes the deadline to September 15.
Katie, hope that makes sense. Happy viewing, and stay safe!
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— Phillip Swann