Aereo, Barry Diller’s uber-controversial Internet TV service currently available only in New York, is expanding. This spring, consumers in 22 more U.S. cities will get the ability to tune into broadcast TV channels via desktops, tablets and smartphones. And the TV networks are not happy.
Aereo uses tiny, remote antennas to grab broadcast signals and convert them into video formats that can be transmitted over the Internet and watched from any device and recorded for later viewing. It’s a brilliant idea, but one that immediately won the ire of the TV industry, who responded with a lawsuit. In July, a federal court ruled that Aereo did not violate copyright law in the way broadcasters alleged, allowing the service to continue operating as a larger legal battle looms.
In its corporate rhetoric, Aereo very deliberately positions itself alongside the VHS tape and DVR, two technologies whose core functionality was challenged by the content industry on copyright grounds. The company and its supporters are hoping that the courts see the similarities as well. (For more insight, see Is Barry Diller Stealing Broadcasters’ Content? Patent Application Says Maybe Not.)
Aereo’s fate is far from firmed up, but that’s not stopping the company from pushing forward with its expansion into new markets. Specifically, it will launch later 2013 in Boston, Miami, Austin, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Washington, DC, Baltimore, Detroit, Denver, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Tampa, Cleveland, Kansas City, Raleigh-Durham (NC), Salt Lake City, Birmingham (AL), Providence (RI), and Madison (WI).
For $8 per month – the price of a Hulu Plus subscription – users can tune into whichever over-the-air broadcast channels are available in their area. It’s the same stuff you can get with a digital antenna affixed to your TV, but Aereo makes it available across devices and has built-in DVR recording functionality.
Will people really want to drop $8 monthly to access broadcast TV more conveniently? Aereo is banking on it. Even combined with a Hulu Plus subscription, users would pay only $16 per month for access to a huge selection of content, some of which is live – including many live sporting events. That beats cable’s hefty monthly bill, but it still won’t get you Game of Thrones or the latest episode of Breaking Bad.
If Aereo manages to survive its legal challenges (and the company just raised $38 million to fund its expansion and pay its legal bills), it’s yet another step toward making the cord-cutting lifestyle a viable alternative. Of course the Cable/Satellite industry isn’t sitting still: on Monday Time Warner Cable announced a limited deal to make some of TWC content available on Roku set-top boxes – although users will still have to have a cable subscription.