Supreme Court sides with big broadcasters
02:04 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against streaming startup Aereo

Aereo used micro-antennae to pick up broadcast networks for users

Some are turning to digital options instead of cable

New shows, live events are still tricky to get

CNN  — 

Aereo, the embattled startup that captured shows from the broadcast airwaves and let users stream them digitally to their computers, smartphones or tablets, is essentially dead after a Supreme Court ruling Wednesday.

The court, in a 6-3 vote, ruled that the service violated copyright laws, even though it was using miniature TV antennas to access publicly broadcast signals from local TV stations. The startup has said there was “no Plan B” for its survival if the court ruled against them.

The owners of ABC, Fox, NBC, Univision and other broadcasters had filed suit against Aereo. (Time Warner, the parent company of CNN, was not a plaintiff in the case, but did support the broadcasters.)

Aereo started in the New York City metropolitan area and is now online in New York and 10 other U.S. markets. It charges $8 a month and has never revealed how many users it has.

So, now, the question becomes: What will Aereo’s users do instead?

Presuming that Aereo does, in fact, cease service as it now exists, there are other options out there for folks still unwilling to fork over the money for cable TV. From apps to Web-streaming hardware, products exist with which millions have already “cut the cord.”

But, as with much of life, there are upsides and downsides to this approach.

Here’s a look at what’s out there, what people like about it and what cable still has that the Web can’t duplicate.

Streaming hardware

In the past few years, the market has been flooded with devices that can stream Web content to your television.

Startups with dedicated devices, like Roku, soon were joined by some of tech’s major players. Apple, Google, Amazon and Samsung all have streaming devices with varying capabilities, and all the major video game consoles can be used to do so as well.

Once a techie luxury, devices like Google’s Chromecast or a low-end Roku can now be had for as little as $35-40. That’s come in handy for folks looking for alternatives to traditional television because …

Apps are everywhere

Ask people who don’t have cable or a satellite dish what they use to watch television and a short list of apps are mentioned again and again: Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime.

Streaming accounts for each offer TV shows and movies. Hulu focuses on new TV episodes (or, at least, newer … more on that later) while Amazon and Netflix are mostly movies and previous seasons of popular shows.

For some, that’s enough to substitute for the full array that cable offers. Especially when paired with …

Rabbit ears!

OK, so maybe the antenna you’d go out and buy today wouldn’t bear much of a resemblance to the twin-pronged, set-top gadgetry many of us remember from our childhoods (tinfoil wrapped round the tips optional).

But with a digital antenna, you get the major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox), PBS and other local stations in a lot better quality than you used to get. Put that together with the streaming options and you’re starting to build yourself back up. However …

The drawbacks

Despite all the digital options, there are some things that you just can’t replace when you pull the plug on cable. If you fall back on watching only broadcast networks, for example, your picture quality may suffer.

Also, none of the above-mentioned apps stream TV shows as they are airing. On Hulu, many shows aren’t available until 24 hours after they air. In the age of plot spoilers online and on social media, that’s risky. And it gets worse.

Fox and ABC have chosen to wait eight days before letting non-subscribers watch new shows.

It’s even tougher to keep up with your premium cable favorites. HBO made news in April by announcing it would make some old shows like “The Sopranos” and “The Wire” available on Amazon. But a three-year delay means “Girls” or “Game of Thrones” fans are still out of luck. As are those fans hoping to watch …

The big game

Ask non-cable subscribers about the holes in their new TV setup and many bring up live sports. While many cable networks stream via their websites and mobile apps, most, like WatchESPN, require a cable subscription to access them.

If you enjoy hitting your local sports bar, this may not be such a big deal. If you’re more inclined to kick back and watch sports at home (particularly if you follow a team outside the city where you live) it’s tough.

In the end, the cable-vs.-digital debate appears set to continue for a while, much like many other situations in which emerging technology has collided awkwardly with entrenched institutions.

But, for better or for worse, the Supreme Court on Wednesday didn’t help the digital side’s cause.