Q: What is Sports Fans Coalition NY?
A: SFCNY is a non-profit organization devoted to providing local New York broadcast signals for free or at cost to New Yorkers, as an answer to the high cost of watching TV, or the unavailability of free, over-the-air broadcast signals to some New Yorkers. It is the New York City “chapter” of Sports Fans Coalition.
Q: What is Sports Fans Coalition?
A: Sports Fans Coalition is a 501(c)(4) non-profit advocacy organization founded in 2009 and based in Washington, D.C. It is the largest grassroots consumer advocacy organization devoted to representing sports fans wherever public policy and sports intersect, with individual members in all 50 states. SFC promotes affordable access to sports, particularly where public resources have been used to build stadiums and arenas.
SFC is best known for successfully petitioning the Federal Communications Commission to end the 40-year-old, anti-fan Sports Blackout Rule. Despite heavy lobbying from the NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA and broadcast television industry, Sports Fans Coalition in 2014 won a unanimous 5-0 vote by the FCC to end the Sports Blackout Rule. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) supported ending the rule. The NFL subsequently suspended its local blackout policy, benefitting fans in communities hardest hit by local blackouts, including Buffalo, NY; Cincinnati, OH; Jacksonville, FL; San Diego, CA and others.
Sports Fans Coalition also championed introduction of the FANS Act in the U.S. Senate during the 114th Congress, a bill that would have required professional sports leagues, if they wanted to maintain their antitrust exemption under the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961, to prohibit broadcasters’ taking down sports events during negotiations with pay-TV companies for retransmission rights.
Q: Why is Sports Fans Coalition NY providing Locast.org?
A: Local news, weather, and sports on free over-the-air broadcast are meant to be seen by the public. The airwaves used by broadcasters (for free) are a public resource. Sports stadiums and arenas often are built with taxpayer money or other public goods. Broadcasters state that they serve the public with local news and weather, which like sports are very important to New Yorkers. The public policy behind the broadcast industry, and the advertising model used by commercial broadcasters, has local access to free TV at its core.
Many New Yorkers, however, cannot receive a free, over-the-air broadcast signal. As in other urban areas, tall buildings often make it difficult to receive an over-the-air signal in an apartment or condo. Technical changes to broadcasting have made it harder to get a signal– the transition to digital broadcasting changed the signal propagation characteristics of over-the-air signals and the recent “incentive auction” at the FCC in which some broadcasters sold their licenses while others will have to change their frequency contributed to this trend. Meanwhile, more and more consumers are “cutting the cord” and no longer receive cable or satellite TV service, relying instead on over-the-air broadcast signals.
Locast.org helps to keep the promise of public access to local broadcasting –including to watch local news, weather, and sports– alive in the era of cord-cutting, changing broadcast signals, and Internet video.
Q: How does Locast.org comply with copyright?
A: Locast.org operates under the same copyright statute that allows broadcast translators to receive and transmit a primary local broadcast TV station without a copyright license, meaning it may provide the digital translator service to you even if local broadcasters object.
Before 1976, under two Supreme Court decisions, any company or organization could receive an over-the-air broadcast signal and retransmit it to households in that broadcaster’s market without receiving permission (a copyright license) from the broadcaster. Then, in 1976, Congress passed a law overturning the Supreme Court decisions and making it a copyright violation to retransmit a local broadcast signal without a copyright license. This is why cable and satellite operators, when retransmitting a broadcast signal, either must operate under a statutory “compulsory” copyright license, or receive permission from the broadcaster.
But Congress made an exception. Any “non-profit organization” could make a “secondary transmission” of a local broadcast signal, provided the non-profit did not receive any “direct or indirect commercial advantage” and either offered the signal for free or for a fee “necessary to defray the actual and reasonable costs” of providing the service. 17 U.S.C. 111(a)(5).
Sports Fans Coalition NY is a non-profit organization under the laws of New York State. Locast.org does not charge viewers for the digital translator service (although we do ask for contributions) and if it does so, will only recover costs as stipulated in the copyright statute. Finally, in dozens of pages of legal analysis provided to Sports Fans Coalition, an expert in copyright law concluded that under this particular provision of the copyright statute, secondary transmission may be made online, the same way traditional broadcast translators do so over the air.
For these reasons, Locast.org believes it is well within the bounds of copyright law when offering you the digital translator service.
Q: Do commercial broadcasters still make money from my watching their station, and can public broadcasters still raise contributions?
A: Yes. Local commercial broadcasters make money by selling advertising and their advertising rates depend on audience ratings. Using existing technology and reporting services, broadcasters can measure how many people are watching their programming online, then charge advertisers accordingly. Public broadcasters that rely on viewer contributions also are able to reach their audience and, in fact, probably reach new audiences over Locast.org, which is great.
Q: Can I get Locast.org outside the New York City Designated Market Area?
A: No. We use geo-fencing technology to make sure that if you are outside the local market boundary (the “Designated Market Area” as defined by Nielsen), you cannot receive the programming stream.
Q: Can I get Locast.org on any device with an Internet connection?
A: Although Locast.org is not optimized for every device, generally speaking any device that can connect to the World Wide Web and has typical software supporting video streaming can display the programming stream.
Q: What will Sports Fans Coalition do with my personal information?
A: The most important thing we do is make sure that you are within the New York City local broadcast market and therefore eligible to receive the digital translator service. In addition, we ask your permission to be able to send you updates about the service and alerts about consumer action items that we think would be important to you.
Q: Will I ever have to pay for Locast.org?
A: Maybe. We are a non-profit organization supported by generous contributions from lots of good folks but might not be able to raise enough money to sustain the service. The copyright statute allows us to charge a nominal fee “necessary to defray the actual and reasonable costs” in providing the digital translator service and in the event that we need to request a contribution from you to keep the service going, we will do so.
Q: Why hasn’t anyone done this before?
A: Good question. We don’t know. But we did a lot of due diligence before launching and learned that the technology to offer a digital translator service has gotten a lot less expensive and the law clearly allows a non-profit to provide such a service. So we’re the first. You’re welcome.
Q: Won’t the local broadcasters sue Sports Fans Coalition NY if you don’t get their permission to stream their programming?
A: Maybe. We would like to work with the local broadcasters because we think that we are doing them a service by getting their signal to as many viewers as possible, thereby increasing their audience. We particularly want to work with New York’s local public broadcasters to find ways that they and we, as non-profits, can further our respective missions through this service.
However, if past is prologue, the broadcasters probably will try to stop us from providing this public service. When Sports Fans Coalition fought the broadcasters to end the anti-fan Sports Blackout Rule at the FCC, we learned that the industry often tries to claim that any change will result in irreparable harm. That’s what they said about ending the Sports Blackout Rule. Three years after the FCC ended that rule, however, the sky has not fallen and broadcasters are doing quite well, including with televised sports.
So stay tuned, sports and TV fans.
Q: Can’t I already watch broadcast TV online?
A: Sometimes, yes. The major broadcast networks have “apps” on which viewers can watch network programming and some local broadcasters offer time-delayed or live stream versions of their programming. However, you might have to be a cable or satellite subscriber to “authenticate” such access, or you might have to pay a fee, and rarely can you receive a live stream version of all local broadcasts. Locast.org, like the broadcast translators found around the country, simply offers local broadcast streams to the local market.