TV network executives like CBS' Les Moonves have warned that they would take their networks cable-only if streaming services like Aereo succeed in court, and it looks like they'll have plenty of motivation: Bloomberg reports that top cable providers have been considering adopting Aereo-style services on their own to save money. DirecTV, Charter Communications, and Time Warner Cable are among those said to be contemplating the move, with Time Warner having looked at the option of simply buying Aereo outright.
The issue, of course, is money. Services like Aereo work by capturing broadcast television signals and then transmitting them directly to users over the internet. By using one antenna per customer, the legal argument goes, the companies are not actually copying anything — and therefore aren't breaking copyright laws. The networks have disagreed, filing lawsuit upon lawsuit, and recently asked the Supreme Court itself to step in.
The traditional television business model could be upended overnight
For traditional cable providers, the draw is obvious. They currently pay billions of dollars to networks — called retransmission fees — for the right to distribute programming to subscribers. If Aereo should win out in court, the traditional business model that currently rules television would essentially be upended overnight: Time Warner could simply snatch free broadcast signals out of the air and direct them to customers without fear of legal repercussions (though networks would undoubtedly work every possible legal angle in response).
That's when it would make the most sense for entities like Fox and CBS to make good on their threats. The only way to maintain the value of their programming would be to remove it from the free airwaves, operating instead like cable-only networks such as AMC or CNN. Should all the pieces line up, it would be a case of technological disruption finally hitting one of the most entrenched media businesses — and with your weekly episodes of Scandal already coming over the internet, would true a la carte subscriptions be far behind?