The legal battle is almost certainly just beginning, but for now Barry Diller-backed Aereo is bringing New Yorkers broadcast television via the Web, claiming that the airwaves are public property and the public ought to be able to access them in any way it likes. So, how is Aereo planning to earn its money? By charging $12 a month for customers to lease a tiny antenna that pulls in over-the-air broadcasts, and the service that sends television content along via the Internet. For now, Aereo is available by invitation only; users will receive a 90-day free trial before the $12/month billing commences.
“People no longer want to be tethered to their TVs or cable boxes,” said Aereo founder and CEO Chet Kanojia, in a statement (PDF). “Consumers are demanding more flexibility and value; Aereo delivers just that. This truly groundbreaking technology will usher in a new era of choice in the broadcast marketplace, making the consumers the ultimate winners.”
The Aereo service includes access to a tiny remote antenna that can be used to access more than 20 broadcast channels in the New York area. The service also includes up to 40 hours of remote DVR storage that can be accessed by up to five devices — for now, that’s limited to Apple devices (iOS, AppleTV, and Mac OS X) with support for Android “coming soon.” The service features an integrated programming guide, and a search tool that enables users to find programming by actor, title, or topic; the platform also integrates into Facebook and Twitter, so users can recommend and discuss shows in real time.
Aereo sounds like a stunning simple idea, but there may be a hitch: broadcasters are working hard to shut it down, arguing that Aereo’s service violates copyright law by redistributing their broadcasts via an “unauthorized Internet delivery service.” So far two lawsuits have been filed against Aereo, one by ABC, CBS, NBCUniversal, Telemundo, and others, and another by Fox, Univision, and PBS. Broadcasters maintain Aereo is illegally using their content, and must pay licensing fees if they want to redistribute television broadcasts. Aereo, in turn, has countersued broadcasters, arguing that its service doesn’t enable users to do anything they aren’t entitled to do under the law: watch broadcast TV, along with recording and playing back those programs for personal use. Furthermore, the airwaves belong to the public, and the public should be able to watch those signals free of charge.
Aereo was announced on February 14, backed by $20.5 million in funding from media mogul Barry Diller’s IAC/InterActiveCorp.