The first time you launch Aereo, you start to see why TV network executives are losing their minds. It's not because the service feels like it's doing anything wrong. Quite the opposite. For the consumer, it's doing almost everything right.
When you log in, you're shown a TV Guide-style listing of shows that are currently airing. It's not just the four or five obvious options, either. In the New York market, there are 30 broadcast channels that Aereo grabs and rebroadcasts to your account via the tiny antenna you're effectively renting from the company when you sign up.
It's mostly typical broadcast fare: local news, daytime soap operas, people having meltdowns on Maury, prime time sitcoms, PBS and so forth. All the standard broadcast networks are augmented with local channels, foreign language networks and an inordinate amount of religious programming. The selection may not be as robust as that of cable, but some of the most popular shows on TV are waiting there, ready to be watched or DVR'ed to the cloud for later.
TV On Any Device, Second Screen And All
Aereo doesn't have native mobile apps yet, but it makes up for that with a very capable, cross-platform Web app. It works in the browser on my iPad and iPhone, from which it can be AirPlayed directly to my television via Apple TV. I didn't get the chance to test it, but I'm presuming Aereo works on most other modern browsers and platforms.
Thanks to iOS multitasking, I can close the browser and do other things like check email, browse the Web and tweet. You know, the second screen stuff we all do anyway. It all still works, even if we use our second screens to feed content to the first screen. The only drawback is that the transition from video to video is not entirely smooth with AirPlay. That experience should get better once Aereo develops native mobile apps and, eventually, lands on smart TV platforms.
I am admittedly not a huge TV person. Still, as I use Aereo's Web app from device to device, its value starts to feel more and more obvious. I can watch my favorite PBS shows, tune into the local news (for whatever reason) and watch popular prime time shows like 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation, all using the Internet, which is what I use for just about all other media consumption.
Indeed, after a few days of testing Aereo, I'm left with the distinct impression that this is not only a useful service, but something that needs to exist. I understand why it frightens the TV execs, but I wholeheartedly disagree with them. This is a hugely innovative service that hands control back to the TV-viewing consumer in a way that wasn't possible before. I'm not a legal scholar, but the copyright infringement claims made by the big media conglomerates against Aereo seem like a stretch. So far, the courts have agreed.
The TV Antenna Of The Future
Since Aereo launched, the television industry has been hoping to sue it out of existence. Early attempts to have the service shut down have been unsuccessful, thanks to legal logic that may well wind up saving Aereo in the end. Meanwhile, the networks are clamoring for a plan B, which, if you believe the claims of network execs, includes threats to pull out of broadcast TV all together. (Said threats are, of course, unbelievably stupid.)
Aereo does not disrupt the core broadcast business model. When I'm watching TV shows on my iPad using Aereo, I'm still seeing all the commercials, just like I would if I tuned in via an antenna on my television set. The problem is, my antenna sucks. On a good day, I can get four or five channels to display clearly on my TV, and even that involves some finagling. It feels decidedly old-fashioned to be tinkering with an antenna just to watch NBC.
By contrast, Aereo feels right at home in the 21st century. When you watch it, it doesn't feel like you're stealing anything. Instead, it feels like the service has restored your ability to conveniently tune into broadcast TV — an ability that's atrophied for years thanks to changing viewer habits and, consequently, expectations for picture and sound quality.
Broadcasters and TV service providers didn't come up with a good solution, so Aereo rose to the challenge. Aereo isn't stealing anything. It just wants to sell you the TV antenna of the future.
Why Broadcasters Hate Aereo
This infuriates broadcasters because it could eventually threaten the lucrative fees they get from cable providers, whose all-or-nothing, bloated content bundles suddenly look a little less attractive once a service like Aereo is available for $13 per month. Combined with Netflix and Hulu, Aereo makes cable look less necessary than ever and all three combined are still cheaper than most cable bills.
I have no interest in subscribing to cable. It's expensive and the vast majority of what I'd be paying for is, so far as I can tell, complete garbage. Instead, I catch up with favorite shows via the Internet, where I can also find a growing selection of perfectly worthwhile non-TV video. Aereo is perfect for people like me.
More importantly, it could be an easy sell to many in the upcoming generation of "cord never getters" who are now totally accustomed to getting their TV online. We like to think about what the future of TV might look like. If it survives, Aereo seems very well positioned to be a part of that picture.