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Mixing Live TV and Digital Signage - What You Need to Know

The future of live TV is exciting - but there are some legal implications to consider too.

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One of the possibilities we’re excited about at ScreenCloud is when the TV viewing experience becomes more dynamic. As we mentioned in our vision, Smart TV has been the ‘next big thing’ to never really take off over the last decade. In fact, our viewing experience has become even worse! We’re subject to far more ads and hundreds of channels, often in expensive packages, that don’t really show us what we want to see. 

‘But what about Netflix?’ you may wonder. Well observed, Netflix of course has made our TV’s (and the sofa) more appealing. But it’s still missing one trick that makes watching TV such a switch-off; the idea of passively viewing the content before us.

If you’ve ever become lost down an internet rabbit hole you’ll know how easy it is to let the web move you from article to article, or social media site to article. YouTube has a similar mechanism, where you start watching one video and end up watching something completely different.

In terms of the TV screen, at the moment, there’s nothing where you can just sit there and be shown interesting stuff.

In the same vein, we believe that there’s a ton of undirected potential around the ability of shared experiences through screens and live events. With this, comes a series of not just technology hurdles to jump across but legal ones too.

The murky water of live TV and digital signage

To take one use case we’ve all experienced, you often watch live TV when you go to a bar to catch a sports game. That bar (all being above board) will have purchased a license to show the live airing of the game. Without a license you can’t stream live sports to your viewers and that’s generally agreed upon in both the UK and the US.

But what about the legal implications of sharing other live TV sources through digital signage?

There is nothing concrete (that we could uncover) about the implications, of say showing a live news feed on a digital signage screen. For example, can a hotel lobby, office or school safely show a live news display in the corner of their screen without direct permission from the publisher or broadcaster? Perhaps, you may argue, a school or office is a closed circuit showing this purely for educational or informative purposes. Given that this probably falls under ‘fair use’ due to it's not-for-profit, educational nature, would the BBC or CNN take offence or try to charge them for this? Probably not.

So what about bars, hotels, restaurants and other commercial settings? Is it acceptable for them to show live news feeds or events from other channels, around say, an advert for their new drink or their own promotional material? What if their purpose is to use that piece of live TV in order to benefit while their patrons linger in their restaurant/bar/lobby for a longer time? 

In the current legal system, as many reputable sources have agreed, it’s unclear whether either of these use cases, educational or commercial, errs on the right side of copyright laws. 

According to GigaOm, who have kindly scanned the legal system, you can legally live stream say an episode of Games of Thrones, provided that: 

  1. You don’t charge for admission.
  2. Your food or drinking establishment has less than 3,750 square feet of space (this includes parkings space).
  3. You have no more than four televisions showing the broadcast, none of which are more than 55 inches.

These rules seem rather random right? Hardly an extensive guidebook for what can and can’t be shown.

GigaOm also point to Netflix and Apple’s terms of use which both explicitly state that content viewed through their live TV and on-demand services are strictly for personal and ‘noncommercial’ use only. 

There goes your Stranger Things party. 

This article from Digital Signage Today is also worth a read on how to mitigate some of the issues and recognize what is and isn’t acceptable in everyday uses. 

The end of live TV ads as we know them?

Here’s something else that’s got us pondering. Some of our most loved features at ScreenCloud are the playlist and scheduling tools that allow you to personalize content and optimize it, to show your audience their most favored content stream.

In a traditional sense, this means that you can switch up content in a restaurant to show breakfast, then lunch, then dinner. Or you can tailor your window communications to suit the Monday-Friday workweek vs your weekend crowd. 

Now imagine that you’re showing a live TV stream of a programme that airs at the same time each week. It’s live so you can time it down to the minute - knowing exactly when those pesky ads will make an appearance.

In theory, (and we haven’t done it so don’t sue us!) you could set your playlist to switch between the live TV stream and your own adverts each time the ad break rolls in. 

In fact, one company was doing just that. Wirespring mentions a case where a truck stop chain called Flying J created a TV network across their 100+ locations. Using a third-party device, Flying J learned that they could strip out commercials from the network they were playing and exchange them with their own ads. 

Bringing in over $30,000 in ad revenue per month.

Having been sued by the studio running the network, Flying J have now found themselves lost in a copyright battle that they may not win.

A shared viewing experience

Of course, for some the question is not can you show live TV on your digital signage display but should you?

Many argue that digital signage is only as good as it is personal and showing someone else’s content - a newsfeed, or perhaps a TV series, is a lazy way of attracting attention.

For us, we believe in the power of a shared viewing experience, which will differ depending on context, audience and use case. Twitter’s recent purchase of the rights to stream live NFL games, shows how important the live TV experience is becoming. We see this as a key way of making the shared viewing experience even more connected - rather than watching the game on your TV screen and tweeting from your phone, the tweeting and the viewing can be connected from one device.

In this case, the live TV experience could work well in a shared experience. But then this is Twitter and most businesses won’t be able to afford the same viewing rights. 

As digital signage and live TV experiences become more commonplace we’re sure the rules will become clearer. In the meantime, each case should be treated as individual and we’re here to help advise our customers as much as we can, given that the area is still shady!

Let us know what you think or if you have questions to further the conversation. You can tweet us @screencloud or send us an email on

 SC Gradient

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