Aereo’s end comes with court-approved asset sale

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An Aereo antenna is shown. The company rents access to the antennas to customers who can then watch and record live TV over the Internet. (Photo: Aereo)

Aereo dime-sized antennas allowed its customers to watch and record live TV over the Internet. (Photo: Aereo)

Bankrupt Internet TV service Aereo’s curtain call will be a sale of its assets, ending a series of legal setbacks that landed the company in Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year.

Aereo filed for bankruptcy Nov. 11 following legal losses that essentially prevented it from operating and thwarted its attempt to reinvent itself as a cable television operator. The bankruptcy court approved a process last month for Aereo to sell its streaming technology, allowing broadcasters who initiated the legal fight to weigh in on the sale.

Aereo had operated a subscription service using banks of dime-sized antennas to capture broadcast signals and convert them into streaming video distributed over the Internet. Subscribers rented the antennas and could watch TV programs live or on demand via a device similar to a digital video recorder.

The company stopped operating in June following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found Aereo’s service to be in violation of the Copyright Act. But the high court did note that Aereo operated in a fashion akin to a cable company by offering public performances of broadcasters’ content. Under the Copyright Act, public performances require permission from and payment to the content’s owner.

Following the ruling, Aereo tried to use that argument by repositioning itself as a cable company. But the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York shot down the argument in August when it declined to rule on the matter. The case was sent back to the lower court, where damages to broadcasters from the original case will be determined, leading to November’s bankruptcy filing.

The case of American Broadcasting Companies, Inc., et al., v. Aereo, Inc. stemmed from a pair of lawsuits brought by broadcasters including ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS and New York’s WNET. The litigation has been ongoing since the cases were filed in 2012.

On Dec. 24, Judge Sean H. Lane of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan set an auction date for Feb. 24 at 10 a.m. in the law offices of Brown Rudnick LLP in New York. Lane’s order also gives broadcasters until March 9 to present the court with any objections to the sale.