Locast, a popular free streaming service providing access to local broadcast TV, has suspended operations after losing a court case filed against them by major networks. This guide will breakdown what Locast offered, the legal battle that shut them down, what it means for cord-cutters, and alternatives to turn to instead.
What Exactly Was Locast?
Locast operated as a nonprofit service that streamed local broadcast stations over the internet to users in 35 US markets. The service first launched in 2018 in New York and quickly expanded to other cities.
According to recent reports, Locast had over 3 million registered users accessing local channels through their app or website.
Users could watch ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC plus other local stations like PBS, CW, MyTV, Univision and more depending on their market. Locast was available in major metro areas like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, and more.
The service was able to provide this content for free by relying on donations from viewers. While accessing channels did not require payment, users were prompted to donate $5+ per month for uninterrupted streaming.
This allowed Locast to cover operational costs while delivering local TV stations as a nonprofit. But how exactly did it work?
Locast operated by capturing over-the-air local TV signals with large antennas placed in each market. These signals were then retransmitted through the internet to users located in the same viewing area.
This retransmission of signals formed the basis for the lawsuits brought against them.
Major Broadcasters File Copyright Infringement Lawsuits
In July 2019, the four big broadcast networks ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC filed a federal complaint in New York against Locast for copyright infringement.
The networks claimed that Locast publicly performed their copyrighted content by retransmitting their signals over the internet without permission.
Locast‘s "unauthorized distribution over the internet infringes [the networks‘] exclusive public performance rights," the complaint stated.
But Locast contended their operations were legally allowed under copyright law. As a qualified nonprofit organization, Locast asserted it could retransmit local channels as a "booster" service without needing consent.
This "booster exemption" would shield them from the infringement claims, as long as user payments are only used to maintain operations and not expand scope.
Court Rules Locast Is Not Exempt – Forcing Shutdown
Locast relied completely on this nonprofit exemption defense. But federal judge Louis Stanton recently ruled against Locast – finding that their service exceeded the scope of a nonprofit booster.
In his ruling, judge Stanton took issue with how Locast was utilizing user donations to fund expansions into new markets:
"Since portions of its user payments fund Locast’s expansion, its charges exceed those ‘necessary to defray the actual and reasonable costs of maintaining and operating the secondary transmission service‘
Because Locast made more money than was required to maintain and operate service, its claim as a nonprofit company was denied."
With this decision, Locast lost its protective status and was found liable for violating broadcaster copyrights.
On September 2nd, 2021, Locast immediately suspended all operations citing the court judgment. Without the nonprofit exemption, the service was no longer legally feasible according to its founders.
Major Implications for Cord-Cutters Reliant on Locast
This court ruling deals a huge blow to the millions of streamers who depended on Locast to watch local TV channels without paying for cable.
Recent surveys found almost 20% of cord-cutters accessed Locast for local content – especially critical news and sports.
With Locast now shuttered, their options are more limited. Trying to open the Locast app or website only displays a message about the service ending.
While hardcore cord-cutters may be willing to go without local channels, losing key news and event coverage is a bridge too far for many.
This makes Locast‘s shutdown a major win for cable providers. As consumer advocate groups stated, this decision further entrenches the cable TV stranglehold over affordable access to local programming.
Critics argue the court ruling restricts consumer options and allows major broadcasters to tighten their grip over public airwaves.
But ultimately, the legal consensus was that Locast‘s retransmissions – even as a nonprofit – violated broadcaster copyrights. This forced Locast‘s hand in closing up shop.
Alternatives for Streaming Local TV Without Cable
The loss of Locast leaves a gap for accessing local TV that cord-cutters will now need to fill through other means:
1. TV Antennas
Installing an over-the-air TV antenna is the best way to get free unlimited access to local broadcast stations. With a strong antenna, you can pull in all the major local networks with excellent HD quality.
Set-top antennas start around $20. Place near a window in your home for the best reception from broadcast towers. While not as seamless as streaming, antennas deliver major channels with no monthly cost.
NewsOn is a free app for Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, and mobile that offers local newscasts on-demand from markets around the US and Canada. It provides the latest clips from major networks along with local affiliates, but focused specifically on news.
3. Network News Apps
The major broadcast networks all offer free mobile apps to watch live local news and some primetime shows. Apps like ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX Now allow you to view local station streams on smartphones, tablets and streaming TV devices.
The experience varies by city and network. But it helps fill the void left by Locast for news.
VuIt is an ad-supported streaming service with a wide selection of local TV including news, shows, movies, sports and more. It brings together content from over 200 free digital channels.
VuIt offers an electronic programming guide to browse local offerings by broadcast network or category. It provides a cable-like experience but over the internet.
5. Haystack TV
Haystack TV is a news streaming app that curates local broadcasts from various markets around the country. It assembles newscasts from major networks in one place.
The app is more focused on headline news versus in-depth coverage. But offers another way to watch selections of local news without cable.
6. Local Now
Local Now is a free ad-supported streaming channel available on most devices like Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, etc. It includes a limited selection of local news, weather, sports, traffic and entertainment listings for certain markets.
Coverage is light compared to other options. But Local Now can supplement your local TV streaming strategy as an additional source.
The Locast shutdown leaves a significant gap in low-cost streaming access to local TV that impacts many cord cutters. While legal under copyright law, the court ruling grants further control to major broadcasters in restricting options for consumers.
Each of the alternatives come with their own pros and cons. But savvy streamers have more ways to regain access to local content without cable.
Combining OTA antennas, news apps, and services like VuIt or Haystack TV can help replace Locast. But the days of uncompressed live local TV streaming appear numbered.
No single option flawlessly replicates the Locast experience – a reflection of broadcasters tightening their grip. As local programming moves further from open public access, I hope we see better solutions emerge that don‘t depend on your cable subscription.
What do you think about the shutdown of Locast? Are you impacted by the loss of access to free local TV streaming? What options will you use instead? I want to hear your thoughts in the comments.