By Tom Ehrich
Like other issues from religion to higher education, ABC v. Aereo had a presenting issue and deeper issues.
The presenting issue was whether Aereo could continue to stream television broadcast content to its subscribers using clusters of miniature antennas, at a cost of $8 to $12 month for about 30 channels, versus a cable bill of, say, $100 a month for several hundred channels.
Broadcasters objected to this end-run around cable service providers, which pay the broadcast networks substantial fees for popular over-the-air channels. Basically, the Aereo service enabled us to "cut the cord" to cable.
The Supreme Court said Aereo infringed on the broadcasters' copyrights.
I see two sets of deeper issues.
The first concerns technology. The court's majority decision basically ignores how technology works and, in this instance and countless others, how technology changes the ballgame in fundamental ways. Ignoring technology is simply foolish.
The second concerns the TV user. I don't speak for all, or even for many, but speaking for myself: I am sick and tired of advertisements. Surely there is a better business model than loading 17 minutes of increasingly disagreeable ads into every hour of programming. Ad-based revenues are a crumbling foundation for any enterprise, from TV to search engine.
The future is subscription services. Pay for what you use, and be rid of mind-numbing commercials. Thus Netflix and its program "House of Cards."
Broadcast networks' short-term victory against Aereo will encourage them to keep on keeping on, until one day they wake up and see that their cash cow has died. Technology, not copyright laws, will have swept the field.
This is exactly the situation facing churches, colleges and universities, big-box retailers and others. In our dynamic economy, technology and innovation simply cannot be ignored. Lives are changing, delivery systems are changing, needs are changing, and what people will sit still for is changing. The system that worked thirty years ago, or even thirty weeks ago, is lifeless today.
Nothing will get better in the church world, for example, until congregations stop depending on Sunday morning worship to float their boats. Higher education cannot build its future on residential programs funded by high-octane athletics. Look at Arizona State's decision to go massively online.
Wal Mart put mom and pop out of business, and now it is being undone by Amazon and the rapidly growing online marketplace.
Old paradigms die. And no short-term legal victory can put Humpty Dumpty together again.
I, for one, would rather watch "West Wing" reruns on Netflix than ad-dominated current programming. ABC can huff and puff all it wants, but I get to choose whether I endure 17 minutes of ads to watch 43 minutes of "Grey's Anatomy."