Locast, a non-profit that streamed local TV over the Internet, is forced to shut down
Cord-cutting used to be a niche way for tech-savvy consumers to save money, but with the growing popularity of streaming services, we’re basically back to square one. Not every provider has switched to the Internet, though. Local TV stations still broadcast over-the-air to tens of millions of Americans across the country, so if you want to watch your local news station or just enjoy some free programming, your TV needs a way to receive those signals. One way to do that is to install a digital TV antenna, but a more convenient way is to sign up for Locast.
Locast is a non-profit streaming TV service that let Americans in dozens of markets watch local TV stations over the Internet. The service essentially retransmitted the signals broadcast over-the-air by local TV stations, making it so you didn’t need an antenna yourself to watch local TV. Locast members could watch content through apps available on most major mobile and TV platforms, including Android, iOS, Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, Android TV, and more. However, the company announced today that it is shutting down its service and discontinuing these apps. The reason? It drew the ire of major media companies like ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox.
Locast was founded in early 2018 by Sports Fans Coalition NY, a non-profit organization “devoted to providing local broadcast signals for free or at cost to viewers in New York and other select cities as an answer to the high cost of watching TV, or the unavailability of free, over-the-air broadcast signals.” Its first market was New York City, but it quickly expanded to other cities in the U.S., eventually covering 55% of the entire U.S. population.
While it’s free to watch content on Locast, the service would frequently nag the user to donate to remove the “please donate” requests that interrupt the content every few minutes. You could donate as little as $5 a month to remove these donation-seeking ads, or you could donate more if you wanted to support Locast’s expansion into other markets.
While the way Locast used these donations seems reasonable, media giants argued that the service ran afoul of U.S. copyright law. Because Sports Fans Coalition NY operated as a non-profit, they argued that Locast qualified under an exemption laid out in the Copyright Act of 1976, which allows non-profit organizations to make a “secondary transmission” of a local broadcast signal so long as the organization doesn’t receive a “direct or indirect commercial advantage” and offers the secondary transmission for free or for a fee “necessary to defray the actual and reasonable costs” of providing the signal.
However, the major media companies that owned a lot of the content rebroadcast on Locast didn’t think they qualified, so they sued them. Yesterday, a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled in favor of the major media companies, stating that Locast wasn’t exempt from the copyright law based on how it used donations. This left Locast no choice but to shut down.
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.
— Locast (@LocastOrg) September 2, 2021
With the cessation of Locast, cord-cutters will have to find a new way to watch local TV stations. The most obvious solution is to set up an antenna, but many people don’t (or some can’t) place the antenna in a good location for the best reception. Plus, I’m sure some people will dread having to cover up the long coaxial cable that runs from the antenna to their TV. The convenience that Locast provided is why many — myself included — became recurring donors, so it’s sad to see the service shut down.