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Published on October 4th, 2018 | by Brad Gibson

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Locast free TV streaming service launches iOS app; tvOS version by years end

The controversial nonprofit streaming service Locast.org launched its iOS app Tuesday with plans for an Apple TV app by years end, broadening the reach of what could one day see not just a few, but hundreds of local TV broadcast channels streaming over the Internet for free and potentially testing the legality of U.S. copyright law.

The service, launched in January, is a “digital translator” of a traditional broadcast TV station, except instead of using an over-the-air signal to boost a broadcaster’s reach, Locast streams the signal over the Internet to consumers located within select U.S. cities.

At present, the service is available in six markets – New York, Houston, Boston, Denver, Chicago, and Dallas – with plans to expand soon to Philadelphia, followed by Washington, DC.

The iOS app does not currently support AirPlay that allows wireless streaming between devices like Apple TV. Locast Chief Technology Officer Scott Landers tells BESTApple TV they foresee updating the app with that support before the end of 2018.

Locast is also in development of a native tvOS app and is working to release it in the same timeframe. “We anticipate getting them both released in the fourth quarter before the holiday viewing season,” Landers said.

The Locast iOS app requires a Facebook or email login and includes a detailed programming grid to select from. Live shows do not include cloud DVR or live rewind capabilities.

The addition of support for iOS-ready devices comes after the service first launched via web browsers followed by an Android app in August and a Roku app last month.

The service broadcasts local channels – for instance, 13 in the New York City market and 11 in Denver – with rigid geofencing restrictions preventing consumers from watching local stations from other markets. Tests by BESTAppleTV of various VPN services showed channels through Locast were unavailable outside local IP zones of the six markets.

Locast…but is it legal?

The service is being offered for free by the non-profit Sports Fan Coalition New York and is operating without the permission of the broadcast networks, possibly putting it in a legal predicament.

A similar service, Aereo, tried to re-broadcast over-the-air TV broadcasts and stream them for an $8 per month fee back in 2014. The Supreme Court deemed that illegal for violating copyright law and Aereo shut down shortly thereafter. Locast may run afield of that argument since it’s technically live-broadcasting other channels’ content without their approval, but so far a legal challenge hasn’t been filed.

Locast is the brainchild of former Federal Communications Commission legal adviser David Goodfriend. Goodfriend, 49, is a law professor at Georgetown and was instrumental in ending the sports blackout rule in 2014 that prevented certain sporting events from being shown on TV if attendance to the live event was poor. He has also been an executive at the satellite TV giant Dish Network, which owns the online streaming service Sling TV. Sling TV has recently been recommending Locast as an “independent solution to access local channels.”

Goodfriend insists Locast is different from Aereo because it operates under a section of federal copyright law that lets nonprofits retransmit broadcast signals without the approval of station or program owners to help consumers who live in places with bad reception.

david_goodfriend_locast
David Goodfriend is the brains beyond Locast.org who feels U.S. consumers have a right to watch their local TV stations for free on the web.

“Things that were originally set up as a public benefit, namely free over-the-air broadcasting, increasingly do not exist anymore,” Goodfriend said. ‘The whole social contract was that broadcasters we’re going to take public resources and public money and give the public an entire industry that gave them free programming in return. That social contract has really come under strain lately. I thought going back to basics, using a provision of existing law that was designed to allow non-profits to do something that for-profits cannot do was the right way to show consumers there’s relief.”

Goodfriend sees Locast as a positive for broadcasters hurt by the growing number of consumers who have dropped their pay-TV subscriptions. With Locast, networks can reach even more viewers so they can sell more advertising, he said.

“You have consumers paying way too much for cable, satellite, pay TV services, generally,” he said. “Locast is good for consumers and it can be good for broadcasters too if they embrace the technological changes that are covered by current law.”

Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, told Bloomberg News in January it was “deeply skeptical” Locast would survive a legal objection. 10 months on and no lawsuits, Goodfriend feels the groups’ strategy has proven it’s abiding by the law.

“There’s no lock on the courtroom door. Anybody can sue us anytime they want,” Goodfriend commented. “When the NAB says something, they say it really strongly. If they believe (Locast) is a flagrant violation of the law, they would have said that. Instead, they said they were ‘skeptical’ that this is any different. That is an inconclusive word. That means they haven’t found out that what we’re doing is absolutely illegal and they plan to pursue their rights. They’re skeptical…I think they have spoken through their silence and through their inaction and when they have spoken it has sounded relatively inconclusive.”

Moving forward

Goodfriend is planning the future of Locast with an expansion of channels and markets. It has recently negotiated a deal with a data provider to expand its streaming service at a much lower bandwidth cost than usual.

“I think we’re going too able to keep our cost very low,” he said. “That’s going to allow us to be very competitive in the marketplace as a good value. That’s a public service.”

Goodfriend is also making future plans to sign a deal with a national data provider that would allow Locast to go into as many markets as it can afford to launch.

Costs to expand into more markets are not cheap, Goodfriend said. Locast must create and rent a physical office in every TV market it streams to grab a signal from an over-the-air antenna and then use expensive technology to stream it. His hope is that staying as a non-profit will convince American consumers supporting such a service with public contributions is in their interest.

“At a time that I think things have become overly commercialized, my hope is that we can prove that having a non-profit in the marketplace is a very good thing,” he said.

For more details on Locast, check out their video at this link.

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About the Author

Brad is co-founder and editor-in-chief of BESTAppleTV.com. He has been a technology reporter since the late 1980s having previously worked for MacUser, MacFormat, and iCreate magazines, as well as MacNN.com, MacObserver.com, MacCentral.com, MacMinute.com, and Macworld.com. He hosted and produced the MacFormat This Week podcast for three years. He was also a reporter, editor, and producer for the Associated Press and United Press International.



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