Launched recently in Portland during March 2012, an Atlanta-based video platform company named Skitter has started streaming ten broadcast channels that includes CBS, the CW, TBN and two PBS affiliates at a price of $6 a month for the basic package. Accessible through the Roku platform as well as the Western Digital Live set-top box and the Western Digital TV Live Hub, Portland consumers can view upcoming programming through a channel-grid guide and watch live television without the need for an external antenna.
Skitter plans to launch this service in five more markets in the next couple months and the target cost for a standard subscription will be between $12 to $15 per month which includes all other major broadcast networks such as NBC, FOX and ABC. In an interview with GigaOM, company officials are also developing DVR capability on the Western Digital platform.
A similar service called Aereo launched in New York City earlier this year for a cost of $12 per month, but has come under legal pressure from local broadcasters due to claims of copyright infringement. While the concept of the service is the same, Skitter is avoiding the legal kerfuffle by obtaining retransmission licenses from broadcasters in order to bring the service direct to consumers. Skitter was already acquiring these licenses to sell their technology to telco operators in areas around the country. While broadcasting the content is legal with these licenses, it is limited to consumers in a specific geographic area. For instance, a Roku owner in Chicago cannot access the local stations in Portland due to licensing restrictions.
Interested Roku and Western Digital Live owners can check the availability of the service in their area as well as sign up for an announcement email when the service becomes available. The Skitter application includes a search function to look for specific shows and users can view a description of the current show with information similar to the TiVo user interface. The application can also display the episode information as an overlay on the screen when watching the live TV feed.
When watching the feed of any channel streamed over Skitter, the video stream is about one minute behind the actual broadcast. However, the stream can be paused at any time to grab a quick snack or take a bathroom break. Since the video is streaming over the Internet similar to loading up a movie or television show on Netflix, the service isn’t particularly conducive to quick channel surfing since each stream take a couple seconds to bring up. According to the same GigaOM interview, the quality is somewhere between high definition and standard definition, but will increase in quality as the company rolls out “adaptive bitrate streaming” technology.
While consumers can hook up an antenna to access local channels for free, Skitter could be helpful for people that get poor antenna reception in a rural area or perhaps in an apartment building where a large antenna isn’t possible. It’s likely a less expensive option to a basic cable package in most areas as well. It could also be useful for a household that uses several Roku or Western Digital set-top boxes around the home. Consumers could purchase a single subscription to Skitter and play local stations on all set-top boxes without having to hook up an antenna to each television.