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Could Fox turn itself into a CABLE channel to beat Barry Diller's cheap little antenna?

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By Noel Young, Correspondent

October 19, 2013 | 4 min read

Two major US TV networks are said to be seriously considering taking their free-as-air programmes off the air and turning themselves into cable channels.

Diller : Aereo network worries the big boys

It's all about about Aereo, "the Barry Diller-backed digital television service they’ve been trying unsuccessfully to sue out of existence,"says Forbes magazine.

The idea of Aereo is that subscribers rent a mini-antenna for eight dollars a month instead of the much larger sums that cable companies charge for access to their networks.

Reuters quoted Garth Ancier, a former top-level executive at NBC and Fox about the threats posed by Aereo and Dish Network’s ad-skipping Hopper DVR to the broadcast business.

Ancier claimed that two of the Big Four networks — ABC,CBS , NBC and Fox — have for months been evaluating whether they might be better off becoming, in effect, cable channels.

Forbes reached out to Ancier to make sure there wasn’t some sort of miscommunication. There wasn’t.

“I know two that are talking about it,” he said , leaving open the possibility that the others might be as well. He declined to specify to Forbes which, saying he’d heard it in a “talking over coffee” setting and didn’t want to betray a confidence.

However it would appear that Fox is one of them. Bloomberg reports News Corp chief operating officer Chase Carey told an audience at the National Association of Broadcasters conference the network will go cable-only if it loses its bid to stop Aereo.

“To say it’s serious is probably an overstatement,” Ancier says. Rather, it’s a contingency plan the networks in question are keeping in their back pockets in case they can’t beat Aereo and Dish in court."

Aereo and Dish represent a devastating potential one-two punch, says Forbes, with Aereo undermining the networks’ ability to charge retransmission fees (worth an estimated $3 billion by 2015) and Hopper handicapping their efforts to sell advertising.

Aereo, says Forbes, "uses a novel interpretation of copyright law to capture and stream free over-the-air TV signals. Having failed to secure an injunction to keep Aereo from operating, their hopes of challenging its legality are fading."

Unless their luck turns, Ancier predicts they will indeed be forced to resort to the previously unthinkable and pull their signals off the air.

“If you’re running a broadcast network in this country, and you can figure out who those people are, you have to be looking at these court decisions and saying, ‘Okay, what do we do to preserve our business if this continues?’”

Aereo spokesperson Virginia Lam issued this statement:“Aereo has invented a simple, convenient way for consumers to utilize an antenna to access free-to-air broadcast television, bringing television access into the modern era for millions of consumers.

"It’s disappointing to hear that Fox believes that consumers should not be permitted to use an antenna to access free-to-air broadcast television.

"Over 50 million Americans today access television via an antenna. When broadcasters asked Congress for a free license to digitally broadcast on the public’s airwaves, they did so with the promise that they would broadcast in the public interest and convenience, and that they would remain free-to-air. Having a television antenna is every American’s right.”

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