Ready to cut the cord but not willing to hassle with an antenna to bring in dozens of available over-the-air TV channels from transmitters in either Miami or West Palm Beach?
Locast, a streaming app, might be the solution for you. But there’s a catch.
The nonprofit service will be live in South Florida on Tuesday morning. Users will be able to access live streams of channels serving their respective Miami or West Palm Beach media markets on smart phones, tablets, or any TV connected to the internet via such platforms as Roku, Amazon Fire, Apple TV, Android TV, Tivo or Google Play. To get started, go to locast.org or search for Locast through your TV’s streaming platform.
Which over-the-air channels will be available through Locast depends on where viewers live. In Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, users will get channels from Miami stations. West Palm Beach-area stations will be streamed to viewers in Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Okeechobee and Indian River counties.
All viewers will get local affiliates of all four broadcast networks — NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox — plus their PBS channel and secondary channels carrying Telemundo, Univision, Cozi, MeTV, Create, CourtTV, Laff, Grit, Ion, Comet, the CW, Antenna TV, and others. In a preview of Locast’s feed on a desktop computer Monday, more than 40 channels from Miami broadcasters were available to viewers in Broward County.
Viewers served by West Palm Beach-area stations will get 28 channels, a Locast official said.
While Locast touts it’s “free” service, it will actually cost you $5 a month to get uninterrupted viewing.
A basic version of Locast is free, but after a couple hours of uninterrupted viewing, programming will stop and a 15-second ad will show up asking users to commit to making a $5-a-month donation to help keep the service going. The service then defaults back to Locast’s home screen and you’ll have to select your channel again to continue watching.
The ads will appear every 15 minutes or so, but users can eliminate them by committing to the monthly donation.
David Goodfriend, Locast’s founder and chairman, said the service is ideal for viewers tired of paying large monthly bills to cable, satellite, and premium streaming services and who cannot easily pull signals over the air.
People who live near airports, for example, frequently have trouble watching over-the-air channels because of radio signal interference from planes communicating with air traffic control towers, Goodfriend said.
Locast is also attractive to users who cannot or don’t want to install an antenna on their roof, or who have trouble pulling in consistent and clear signals using indoor antennas.
After users set up their account, they’ll get access to a channel guide similar to ones used by pay TV services. They can change channels by clicking the channel name on the left side of the guide, or on the current program as displayed in the guide. The guide also displays several hours’ worth of upcoming programs to help viewers decide what they might want to watch later.
Locast is currently the subject of a lawsuit by the four major broadcast networks — CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox — that want the service shut down because it doesn’t pay to carry their programming like commercial cable and satellite services and streaming apps must do.
But Goodfriend, a Washington D.C.-based attorney and lobbyist, contends that Locast is permissible under a 1976 federal copyright law that allows nonprofits to retransmit local broadcast signals. He says he’s confident the company will prevail if the networks’ challenge goes to trial.
In a report about the lawsuit last July, Consumer Reports’ senior policy counsel Jonathan Schwantes said Locast has introduced “certainly a novel — and untested — approach,” but added, “Whether or not it will stand up in court remains to be seen.”
Goodfriend says he earns no pay from his work with Locast and started the service to help ensure everyone has uninterrupted access to over-the-air news, sports and entertainment.
“The types of people who are signing up and the comments we’re getting show there really is a need for this public service,” he said in an interview. “Our media system is so driven by the profit motive, by increasing fees and increasing monetization of users that people are getting left out.”
All of the money donated by users is used to pay for equipment and services needed to keep Locast in operation, he said.
So far, 1.4 million users in the 19 media markets served by Locast have signed up to watch, but the majority have chosen not to pay the $5 monthly donation, Goodfriend said. He declined to reveal how many users are paying but said it’s enough to pay the bills.
Users who choose to donate and eliminate the frequent public television-style requests can pay by credit card, Pay Pal, or by mailing a check.