Locast was a not-for-profit streaming television service that allowed users to view live streams of local over-the-air television stations in many areas of the United States. It was the only streaming service offering free local channels, including NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox. The service was shut down after losing a legal challenge from the major networks.
The major networks filed a lawsuit for copyright infringement against Locast in 2019. This wasn't the first lawsuit of its kind. In 2014, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a similar service called Aereo infringed upon the rights of copyright holders. Locast claimed its service was legal because of an exception in copyright law that didn't apply to Aereo:
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).
A judge disagreed that this exception applied to Locast forcing the service to shut down in 2021. The legal defeats that both Locast and Aereo suffered will likely dissuade anyone who wants to set up a similar service. However, there is a possible alternative to Locast called LocalBTV.
We want to make it as easy as possible for people to get local stations so they can stay connected to the community, stay on top of important local issues and take advantage of everything living in their community has to offer!
— LocalBTV FAQ
What Is LocalBTV?
LocalBTV is a streaming service that offers local TV stations in the markets it serves. As I write this, it is available in twenty-three markets including Indianapolis, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta, Louisville, New York City, Las Vegas, San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego, and Southern California. They plan to expand into more markets. Due to licensing and copyright issues, you must live within a particular television market to get access. This was also the case with Locast.
LocalBTV only offers channels it is authorized to offer, which means it hasn't encountered legal difficulties like Locast and Aereo. That also means it doesn't offer the major networks: ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox. However, according to their FAQ, they do plan to offer them at some point:
"Other stations such as the major networks (ABC, NBC, etc) will be available in the future."
LocalBTV is free, but they have plans to add a paid Premium version.
"The free version has 25 or more channels, but when we release our paid premium version you’ll get more than 50 local stations including the major network stations."
Unfortunately, LocalBTV hasn't provided any timetable for when this Premium version may become available.
"LocalBTV does not currently include major national network programming. We expect all of the 70-100+ local broadcast channels in each market to be available in the future."
Jim Long, the founder of LocalBTV, said in a January 2022 interview that agreements with the major broadcasters haven't yet been worked out. He believes a deal between them “is inevitable.” Millions of households don't have antennas or a paid TV service like cable, satellite, or streaming television providers like YouTube TV. That's a financial loss for the major networks. They lose out on advertising and subscription fees when people don't have the means to access their local channels affordably. Many of these households may be willing to subscribe to a local TV streaming service at the right price.
Even though LocalBTV doesn't offer the major networks, if you live in one of the markets it currently operates in, it is worth checking out. After all, it is completely free. In my area, I get local news and access to PBS stations. LocalBTV in my area also offers Asian language stations and stations aimed at Spanish-speaking audiences.
LocalBTV versus Locast
Locast required a $5 a month donation to get uninterrupted viewing. If LocalBTV strikes a deal to offer the major networks, it's unlikely their Premium option will be that inexpensive. However, paying more may be worth it for many customers because LocalBTV offers a DVR. Locast customers had to use external services like Stremium to record programming. But that's an extra $5 a month in addition to the $5 donation. LocalBTV's built-in DVR is very convenient in comparison. The channel guide has two weeks of program information and the DVR comes with 1TB of storage, enough to store 300 hours of programming.
In addition to the DVR, LocalBTV has some other great features. One is the customizable channel guide. Simply uncheck channels you don't want to see in the guide. Other features include closed captioning, and the ability to pause, rewind, and fast-forward. The LocalBTV app is available for Apple TV, Fire TV, and Roku.
Will LocalBTV Be a Possible Alternative to Locast?
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2021 LT Wright