As it states on the company’s website, NAB and the Consumer Electronics Association are strategic investors in Syncbak (www.syncbak.com), an Iowa-based company offering technology designed to distribute local TV stations over the Internet by only allowing viewers within the stations’ DMA to receive them. Jack Perry is the founder and CEO.
By synchronizing broadcast and broadband delivery of television, Syncbak says it enables Internet TV and creates a platform for connecting consumers, broadcasters and advertisers.
But like ivi.tv and FilmOn.com, Syncbak doesn’t have full permission yet from the stations, networks or other copyright holders. Ivi.tv features stations in Seattle and NYC. FilmOn carries LA TV stations. ivi.tv and FilmOn.com say they can legally retransmit broadcast signals under the copyright law license that was created for cable systems over 30 years ago. The broadcast networks disagreed and have sued ivi.tv and FilmOn.com in federal court. Ivi.tv tried to keep the ball in its Seattle home court by suing for a declaratory ruling that it isn’t violating copyright law by streaming more than two dozen broadcast TV stations. It hasn’t gotten one and now the copyright holders have filed their own lawsuit in a New York federal court. The networks declined comment on the issue, as one exec said off the record: “Right now, nobody will speak about it. I’ve already been forewarned!”
Syncbak is not part of the suit and as you’ll read, it doesn’t look like it will be anytime soon.
ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, PBS and Major League Baseball are among the plaintiffs who have sued to stop ivi.tv from distributing their copyright content without authorization. NAB had previously denounced ivi.tv’s business as “blatantly illegal.” Of course, the difference with Syncbak – and apparently why NAB is supporting them – is it keeps the signal within the DMA, so local viewers must watch their local affiliate.
NAB’s reported position is their investment recognizes that broadcast television service needs to evolve to reach viewers wherever they are and deliver programs to whatever device they may have and that the local TV business model depends on program access based on geographic exclusivity.
RBR-TVBR asked Perry: The major networks are in litigation with ivi.tv and FilmOn for essentially streaming content without permission. Yet, you are streaming stations and network programming – with the NAB’s blessing. What is so very different here for Syncbak – is it just the geographic limitation?
“Our company is building and it has built, an enabling technology,” he tells us. “And that technology really involves installing hardware at the station side that communicates with all devices on the consumer side that are both ATSC-enabled as well as Internet-enabled — the coming generation of Internet-enabled televisions. By installing that software and hardware at the station side, we’re now communicating with the viewers both over the air and over the web at the same time. And if either of those conditions are not equal in that they are not getting an over-the-air signal at the same time they’re getting the over-the-web signal, it shuts off.”
It is essentially an absolute authentication system using the digital broadcasting as a catalyst to make it happen. So if you don’t get the signal over the air, you are not going to get it over the web.
He adds, referring to ivi.tv and FilmOn’s issues: “The internet really doesn’t know any boundaries, where cable systems’ boundaries are basically as far as their pipe has been laid. So I can’t imagine how either one of those companies, without having a technology that determines what channels someone is supposed to get or ‘tune in’ via the internet, are going to be around very long unless they solve that problem. My company is focusing on solving the tuning question first, and quite honestly, we’ll see where we’re going to go from here.”
Are the broadcasters and networks giving full thumbs up on this?
“What I can tell you is we’re running a number of pilots with the technology to prove it out first, and I am having a number of discussions (and have been for over a year) with various networks and major station groups, the NAB and CEA. So what I’ve said is the best way to do this is build the technology and now we have to show everybody how it works. And I haven’t had heard one negative comment about the technology yet.”
We’ve seen some of the problems with mobile TV, with the recent announcement that Qualcomm is shutting down FloTV. Syncbak will work on mobile devices as well via broadband delivery. We asked Perry why Syncbak’s business model might be better in this arena than FloTV.
“The question today is we’ve spent a decade thinking about getting the consumer as big a television as possible with as great a picture as possible. And about the time we as broadcasters finished doing that, it became less about the picture and more about choice and convenience. And so I think one of the problems with the Qualcomm scenario is it didn’t offer you live broadcast television from the same exact broadcasters that are reaching you on other platforms. Our company has tried to create kind of a middleware that would just enable you to reach into your living room and get whatever’s on there and move it to whatever device you want – whether you’re watching it over ATSC-M/H or over broadband delivery if you happen to be out of market. So what we’ve tried to say is someone has to get in the middle and make sure you can get 24/7 continuous access to your broadcast channels – that’s what we’ve tried to do.”