Internet TV gets a Tentative Thumbs Up in New Court Ruling

Internet-based television streaming scored a potentially big win this week when Federal District Court Judge George W. Wu ruled broadcasters may not be able to refuse content licenses to FilmOn. The company has been fighting a lawsuit over claims it shouldn't be allowed to rebroadcast copyrighted content over the Internet. If the ruling stands, this could open the door for other companies—potentially including Apple—to sidestep the traditional broadcast model to bring us TV shows outside of the confines of the big names like Comcast and Dish.

Federal ruling says Internet companies can get content licenses from broadcastersAccording to Judge Wu's ruling, FilmOn should be considered the same as traditional cable television for transmission even though all of its content is delivered through broadband Internet, reports Reuters.

Broadcasters have aggressively resisted giving Internet-based companies licensing even before FilmOn's case landed in Federal court. Aereo was at the center of a high profile case last year thanks to its online rebroadcasting of local station's content online. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled in favor of the broadcasters and Aereo had to close its doors.

Following Aereo's demise, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed changing regulations to block broadcasters from refusing to sell licenses to Internet-based services. At the time, Mr. Wheeler said,

Consumers have long complained about how their cable service forces them to buy channels they never watch. The move of video onto the Internet can do something about that frustration—but first Internet video services need access to the programs. Today the FCC takes the first step to open access to cable programs as well as local television. The result should be to give consumers more alternatives from which to choose so they can buy the programs they want. 

Judge Wu's ruling is in line with the proposed changes, and would open the door so companies like FilmOn could better compete with Comcast, Time Warner, Dish, and other traditional TV providers. His ruling comes too late for Aereo, but could bode well for FilmOn and even Apple.

Apple is reportedly hard at work lining up content for its own online television service that could launch later this year. Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes said in April Apple is putting together a streaming television service, although a month later a report claimed the iPhone and iPad maker was having trouble getting licensing deals for content from local stations.

The company may be back on track for a fall launch, and recently was said to have national networks such as NBC, CBS, and Fox working to get local affiliates on board. Should Judge Wu's ruling stand, Apple could be in a much stronger position to get those deals to come through.

Judge Wu's ruling sounds like a big win for companies wanting to stream content from broadcasters, but it isn't a sure thing yet. He saw his ruling as controversial because of broadcaster's concerns they would lose out on potential advertising revenue, so he said he'd grant an immediate appeal to the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals.

That means the injunction blocking FilmOn from broadcasting will stay in place, and Apple can't use Judge Wu's ruling to get content deals it wouldn't otherwise manage to land—at least not yet. Instead, they'll have to wait for the case to be reviewed and broadcasters won't give up without a fight.

Word on the street says Apple already has some content deals in place, and with the Networks helping out it'll likely have more soon. Assuming the courts agree with Judge Wu's ruling, Apple will be in a strong position to snap up more content for its still rumored online television service, and if FilmOn can hold out long enough, it'll be able to land the content licenses it needs, too.