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Clearing the Aereo

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There's a reason the entire television industry is watching the Aereo Supreme Court case so closely, and it all comes down to lazy viewers like me.

Hang in there -- I'm going somewhere with this.

The Aereo case opened Tuesday, but my story starts months ago when I last ordered a DVD from Netflix. Since then, the first of spring has come and gone. The days are longer, the air is warmer, the trees are greener.

And the DVD from Netflix is still in its envelope.

Here's how long it's been sitting on the shelf, waiting to be played: the envelope has a picture of Cupid on it.

At one point I couldn't wait for it to arrive. Now I couldn't tell you what's inside.

The problem is, left to my own proclivities, I'm a very lazy TV viewer.

As a kid, I thought nothing of getting up off the couch and walking across the room to change channels on my parents' gigantic RCA console. A few years later, it was no trouble at all to run down to the video store and grab a VHS tape on a Friday night.

Still later, I could spend a half hour programming my TiVo and it was worth every second.

Now I can't bother putting a DVD in my Blu-Ray player and changing the input on my TV. Because I've discovered streaming, and if something is harder than firing up my Roku, I just can't muster the energy.

I'm not alone. The history of TV technology teaches the same lesson over and over: any invention that increases viewers' convenience and control is a winner.

The remote control, the VCR, the DVD, the DVR, Netflix, Hulu Plus, Roku -- all of these win easily because they give viewers greater control over what they watch and when they watch it. Consumers may also put Aereo in this category -- it's too early to know.

Of course, sometimes innovation causes big headaches for big media. The remote control reduced the power of program scheduling by making it easier for viewers to change channels and not be carried blindly from one show into another. The VCR allowed viewers to time shift programming. The DVR put afterburners on the VCR.

Big media tries to ease its headaches through big lawsuits, but that strategy has backfired. A couple of suits, against Sony's Betamax and Cablevision's network DVR, resulted in landmark decisions against media companies and in favor of viewers.

The winners in these cases were viewers -- not Sony or Cablevision, but people like me: proudly lazy TV viewers who won more convenience and control over their television viewing. Ironically both of these rulings now support Aereo's case.

So the real culprits causing change in the TV business aren't Sony or Cablevision or The Hopper or Aereo. Blame me and viewers like me for embracing more control over our viewing.

If Aereo loses, media companies need to proceed carefully, and heed the enduring lesson of Internet disruption: your customers will always get what they want. They will do it with you or they will do it without you. Taking down Aereo doesn't mean viewers won't find another way to accomplish the same thing.

If Aereo wins, networks should embrace it as a new way to reach viewers with programming and advertising. And for Aereo, an even bigger trial will lie ahead as consumers judge whether or not it's on the mark.