What the Aereo decision means for TV watchers

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The Supreme Court's ruling against Aereo is a huge deal — not because it'll upend the TV industry, as some may have hoped, but because of the disruption it won't cause. What is (was?) Aereo, and what does the decision mean for the way we watch TV?

What is Aereo? Based in New York City, Aereo was founded by chief executive Chet Kanojia in 2012. The company uses tiny antennas to grab TV signals out of the air. Those antennas feed the broadcast programming to a DVR, which then plays the programming back to you on your PC, tablet or phone on demand.

Why is it so controversial? At issue was whether Aereo should have to pay money to TV broadcasters for their content. Right now, Aereo pays nothing -- it gets the TV signals for free just as you or I might with our own televisions grabbing signals over public airwaves. But unlike us, Aereo gets to make money off of relaying those transmissions over the Web.
What did the Supreme Court decide? The court held in a 6-to-3 vote that Aereo wasn't simply providing equipment for consumers to watch their own taped shows later, as the company claimed. Instead, Aereo was found to have violated copyright law.

Does this reading of the situation actually make sense? Well, the majority of the justices believe Aereo is really no different from a cable company, which also pays for content and transmits broadcast signals to the public. Three conservative justices disagreed. They argued in a dissent that Aereo doesn't transmit anything, publicly or privately. It's simply facilitating what customers would do on their own if they had the equipment.

Is Aereo dead? Not immediately, but pretty much. Even top Aereo investor Barry Diller admits as much.
What does this mean for the way I watch TV? The justices' decision makes life a lot harder for cord-cutters. To continue watching broadcast TV, you'll need to grab a digital antenna and hook it up to your TV. Or, you'll have to pay your cable company for those channels.

What the Aereo decision means for TV watchers