Aereo Streaming TV

The tech world is all atwitter about Aereo, the live TV streaming startup priced at only $8 a month. Is the service really at the helm of a TV revolution, or is it illegal like so many companies are complaining? We explain what the fuss is about, and why the site is totally worth checking out.

What is Aereo?

Founder and CEO Chet Kanojia’s startup provides the inexpensive streaming of basic network channels to your laptop or compatible device. It also has syndicated programming and DVR ready for either 20 or 60 hours of recorded programming. If most of the TV you watch is on major networks, PBS, Bloomberg, or HSN (let’s hope not on that last one), then we might just have your heaven-sent.

How does it work?

Have you ever fumbled with digital cable on your TV and noticed that even when on the fritz, basic network channels still appear as if by some dark sorcery? Network broadcast channels are still sent over literal airwaves (even though your cable provider has you pay rebroadcasting fees for including them in your cable package). If you still have a TV with an antenna (and an Andy Griffith commemorative lunchbox to match), you can watch anything from American Ninja Warrior to Scandal for free.

Aereo offers that very same service, except you use one of their antennas stored in a warehouse near your city. No joke. The antennas are as small as a dime (while still offering HD reception) and are hooked up to remote DVRs. Each digitizes a TV feed sent to your laptop or device. Sorcery explained.

Where can I get it?

On your phone, tablet, or computer. It also works with Apple TV and through Roku on a dedicated app. Currently, service is offered in Boston, New York, and Atlanta, with plans to launch in Utah on August 19th and Chicago to follow on September 13th. Kanojia plans to expand to 22 new cities within the next three months, so be sure to peep their site.
How much does it cost?

Membership begins at only $8 per month, the same price as Netflix. Upgrading your DVR from 20 to 60 hours will set you back an additional four bones. Kanojia told Fortune that in the next seven years, one in four Americans will be subscribed to Aereo.

Well, what’s the big deal?

A bunch of people believe that Aereo’s service is illegal, including CBS, FOX, and NBC who filed suit against the company in 2012 (reported by The Verge). The company did win the case though. Furthermore, it has friends in high places.

Beginning August 2nd, Time Warner Cable blacked out CBS, Showtime, The Movie Channel, and KCAL in New York, L.A., and Dallas. The reason: negotiating those pesky rebroadcasting fees that basic networks charge cable companies. Because an agreement wasn’t be reached, TWC threatened CBS by saying it would encourage its customers to try Aereo, thrusting Kanojia’s little startup right into the tech spotlight.

In other news, The Verge reports that Comcast may also—inadvertently—be in the startup’s corner. Comcast may strengthen the legality of online streaming services as it begins to roll out its own cloud-based DVR service. The cable company is relying on the very same “landmark legal precedent” that Aereo’s leaders lean on, thus strengthening their case. Although a statement from a Comcast spokeswoman attempts to distance the company from supporting the startup, the legal connection is still there.

Bottom Line

As cable bundle pricing becomes more and more expensive, something has to come along to burst the bubble. And that something could easily be Aereo. Its wealth of content is by no means extensive, but it’s a start. If matched with another streaming service like Netflix, you can assemble a fantastic arsenal of content and watch live network TV for a whopping total of $16 a month.

There’s something to be said about the startup’s instant streaming over competitors like Hulu Plus that offer the same network programming but at dates after airing. Aereo bypasses all those sticky network agreements and offers shows straight to the user in real time. If that will satisfy your viewing habits, it’s completely worth considering.

In terms of legality, the tide is turning in Aereo’s favor. It has a bit of a “pirate radio” vibe in the press, the same enjoyed by other streaming services like the music streaming Spotify. People don’t want channels anymore–they want shows,” Chet Kanojia told Fortune. With on-demand access taking over the TV landscape, he’s exactly right. And giving consumers exactly what they want at a lower price can be a dangerous thing.

Will you register for Aereo when it arrives in your city? Should cable companies be on the lookout for this tech renegade? Share your thoughts in the comment below!

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