Such robotic swarm technology could transform modern warfare for the U.S. Navy and the rest of the U.S. military by reducing the risk to human personnel. Smart robots and drones that don't require close supervision could also act as a "force multiplier" consisting of relatively cheap and disposable forces—engaging more enemy targets and presenting more targets for enemies to worry about. "Numbers may once again matter in warfare in a way they have not since World War II, when the U.S. and its allies overwhelmed the Axis powers through greater mass," wrote Paul Scharre, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a military research institution in Washington, D.C., in an upcoming report titled "Robotics on the Battlefield Part II: The Coming Swarm." "Qualitative superiority will still be important, but may not be sufficient alone to guarantee victory," Scharre wrote. "Uninhabited systems in particular have the potential to bring mass back to the fight in a significant way by enabling the development of swarms of low-cost platforms."
The mere suggestion that the league's booming popularity could ever be vulnerable to a slowdown would be scarier outside of league headquarters. The companies who do the most business with the NFL operate in industries that have been disrupted by competitors and new technology. Those companies are clinging to the NFL and their massive fanbase as they were a lifeboat.
The NFL, as it stands, props up TV networks, who have been broadsided by Netflix, among others. If viewership dipped, they would no longer be able to hike up affiliate fees to local stations, which give them a dual revenue stream, along with advertising, and are almost directly tied to football. Those inside the industry say this sort of chain reaction could—no exaggeration—cause the downfall of the entire television industry. Television networks would have to find something that could possibly deliver 17 million viewers on on a consistent basis. Spoiler alert: They can't. The power the league has over broadcasters was clear when CBS took their popular Thursday Night comedy lineup and pushed it aside as if they were cable access shows. "The Big Bang Theory" is now on Mondays. The NFL anchors Thursday nights. And Sundays.
Everyone agrees that if the NFL took a hit, there's no logical replacement. The Pro Bowl, the league's afterthought of an All-Star game, draws better ratings than nearly all baseball and basketball playoff games.
Were there other factors that went into the decision to air this on commercial television, as opposed to PBS?
Tyson: When we first shopped around the idea, we went to the normal list of networks, PBS, Discovery Channel, Science Channel and National Geographic. While we were doing this, I met Seth MacFarlane at a special meeting in California intended to connect Hollywood storytellers and artists with scientists. I didn't think much would come of it, but Seth called me one day when he was in New York and invited me to lunch. He told me he wanted to do something to serve science in America and he asked me what he should do. I thought maybe he could invest in a pilot that we could use to show sponsors. He said "I have a good idea, let's take it to Fox."
Now, there are a series of thoughts I'm about to share with you that I think lasted about 12 seconds. My first thought was "This is the stupidest idea I've ever heard, he doesn't get it, this is a waste of a lunch."
But then I said, "Wait a minute, Fox is 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight Pictures, they brought Avatar and Slumdog Millionaire to the screen. Yes, there's Fox News, but also the Fox Network which has acerbic liberal commentary of The Simpsons and Family Guy. And there's Fox Sports. I realized Fox has more demographics of American culture going through their portfolio than any other network. And so, I concluded that there's no better place to be than on Fox.
Instead, consumers pay $8 to $12 a month to watch almost live — there is a delay of a few seconds — and recorded programs from the major broadcast networks and public television. It’s a threat to both the lucrative cable bundle and the networks that receive rich fees for being part of that cable package. Aereo would give so-called cord cutters the means to assemble a more affordable package of online streaming options like Amazon Prime, Apple TV or Netflix, and still spend a Sunday afternoon watching the N.F.L. and “60 Minutes” immediately afterward. As antenna-driven viewing has dropped and digital consumption has surged, Aereo is a way to put old wine in a new bottle.
It is a crafty workaround to existing regulations, which rides on the Cablevision court ruling in 2008, which held that consumers had the right, through their cable boxes, to record programming. But then, cable companies pay broadcasters billions in so-called retransmission fees while Aereo pays them exactly nothing. (And the case is not just about Aereo — it opens the gate for cable companies or others to build a similar service and skip the billions in payments to the networks.)
The broadcast networks have a technical legal term for this particular innovation — theft — and they have been trying to shut down Aereo from the start.
It all collides on Tuesday, when the Supreme Court will hear the caseAmerican Broadcasting Companies v. Aereo. It will be up to the court to decide whether the service is a consumer-friendly reskinning of the broadcast universe or just one more example of an Internet pirate trying to loot copyrighted content. In some senses, the case is as big of a deal as the Betamax ruling in 1984, which allowed consumers to record programming.
“This is the Sony Betamax of this century,” Mr. Kanojia said on the phone last week, citing a case that is likely to come up a lot on Tuesday.
Lynn recommends this BBC 4 Front Row program to Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans. I'm not a big fan of the genre and haven't listened to the piece, but Lynn's recommendatons are usually solid. If you don't have flash you can listen to the mp3 here. (about 28m)