In Defense Of Locast

Post by: Rick Ellis 01 September, 2021

I will say right up front that I am not going to weigh in on the complicated legalities of this story, or the impact it might have on retransmission fees or any other industry-related question. I just want to talk about customer satisfaction.

Despite a lot of innovation and increased competition over the past decade, the television industry is primarily still built on this complex, interconnected set of businesses that might not be able to exist if they stood on their own. And because of that and helped by a lot of media consolidation, it's incredibly difficult to build new products that threaten the current television financial ecosystem.

Locast is a non-profit company that provides a very simple service. They allow you to stream all of the local television stations that you can in theory receive with an over-the-air antenna. And it's all wrapped inside an easy-to-navigate menu system that makes watching local television a delight.

The service is useful for a couple of reasons, and that is due in part to the current broken options available to consumers. For example, I have three televisions in my home, two of them with OTA antennas. And among the many other streaming services, I pay for a subscription to Hulu Live TV. In theory, watching local television should be a seamless experience. In theory.

While Hulu Live does include many of the local TV stations, it doesn't carry The CW live, nor does it have include most of the digital subnetworks. And like every virtual live television service than YouTube TV, it doesn't offer the local PBS stations, either.

Watching the local TV stations via an antenna isn't any more satisfying. As anyone who has ever attempted to watch over-the-air HD TV stations in a metro area can tell, the experience is randomly frustrating and annoying. Some stations are only available in optimal weather conditions, and other major network affiliates are surprisingly difficult to capture with an antenna. In my case, the antenna for the local NBC affiliate is located in a direction that leaves me constantly tweaking my antenna as it randomly disappears when I least expect it. Some of the smaller TV signals are also impossible to grab, which means that I lose out on stations such as GetTV and CoziTV.

It's not any easier to watch these local stations through my local broadband provider (in my case, Comcast). Even though I get my internet via Comcast, the best deal the company can offer me for local TV stations is to provide three small digital boxes and charge me a "special affiliate fee" along with other charges. All of which adds up to about $25 a month.

All of that frustration disappears when I use Locast. It's available on a Roku app (as well as on just about every other platform). I can easily watch all of my local TV stations, including their diginets. PBS is there (although weirdly, only some of their diginets), as well as smaller stations that are impossible to get with an antenna. 

Locast had been offering their service for free, but the signal was interrupted every 15 minutes unless you paid a $5.50 a month "donation."

As you might suspect, the companies that own the broadcast networks didn't like this idea and are attempting to shut down Locast. Other similar services had been shut down in recent years, but Locast had figured out a way to navigate the copyright concerns by organizing as a non-profit and only asking for small donations. But yesterday, the company suffered a setback when a judge rendered Locast ineligible to use the copyright exemption for non-profits, which allows them to stream local channels without paying broadcasters. The problem is that while Locast wasn't using the donations to make a profit, it was using some of the money to expand into other markets, which the judge said wasn't allowed under the current law.

In response, Locast announced today that it is dropping the donation and is providing the service for free.

The legal battle against the networks continues, although lawyers for the broadcast networks have asked the court to delay further legal actions until next year. And to be honest, the best thing the networks could do would be to figure out a way to come to terms with Locast. Yes, there are a lot of ramifications to offering the service, and maybe that involves charging a fee. But given that Locast has more than 2 million people using the service in 36 markets, this is an idea that customers want.

Last modified on Wednesday, 01 September 2021 22:24