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Why Broadcasters' Anger With Aereo Masks Technology Footdragging

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Television's dominant players may succeed in convincing the Supreme Court that Aereo violates copyright law, but the technology that powers the plucky, brazen start-up is sure to live on just as video recording devices survived a similar assault some 30 years ago.

Broadcasters led by Disney's (DIS - Get Report) ABC, CBS (CBS - Get Report) and Comcast's (CMCSA) NBC want the court to effectively shut down Aereo, the New York-based company that takes free over-the-air television programming and sells it for a monthly subscription fee of $8 to $12. Aereo argues that it's simply making free programming more convenient and less expensive. Frustration with the high cost of pay-TV is one issue that cuts across ideological lines. 

While the case, which begins its hearing today in Washington, will focus on the court's interpretation of copyright law, it masks broadcaster's long history of opposition to emergent technologies, beginning with cable-TV and later with the VCR and more recently with streaming video services such as Netflix (NFLX).

"The sad history of broadcasting is that over the last 30 years has been that they've had their heads in the sand and failed to anticipate and monetize changing technology," said Andrew Schwartzman, a public interest lawyer and professor at Georgetown Law School, in a phone interview from Washington.  

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"The broadcasters knee-jerk response, much like their knee-jerk response to cable television 50 years ago, was to oppose it and litigate it rather than take advantage of it."

When it comes to the Internet in general, broadcasters, both at the network and local level, have lagged even newspapers. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler told the industry as much in Las Vegas earlier this month. Rather than complain about digital challenges to its business model, the industry must adapt to the Internet, or perish.

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