“Tap water is free, yet Americans spend billions of dollars every year for the convenience of drinking the same thing out of bottles. The founders of a new digital video service are betting the same logic can be applied to another free commodity: broadcast TV.”
I could have tried to come up with a better lead, but really, it wasn’t going to happen. Plus, I thought that was pretty solid, right? Right.
That top paragraph comes from Jeff Bercovivi, a writer at Forbes, who took to the Interwebs to gush over something pretty much every technology and/or television-related news outlet has been gushing over all day now: Aereo.
So … what is Aereo? We turn our collective heads in the direction of one, Mr. Brian Stelter, whom you might just recognize if you ever actually took my advice and watched that New York Timesdocumentary from last year.
“An online television company has come up with a way to stream local television stations to paying subscribers on the Internet, potentially forming a new cord-cutting threat for cable and satellite distributors,” he wrote Tuesday morning. “… Aereo will stream all of the programming of the major networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC) and will include an Internet-powered digital video recorder. What it lacks completely is cable TV. But for some people, particularly those who do not watch sports cable channels like ESPN or premium channels like HBO, a combination of Aereo and an on-demand streaming service like Netflix or Hulu could be an appealing alternative to a cable subscription.”
Whew. That was a lot.
Now, granted, we have been hearing about these types of alternatives for those of us who miss such things as local news broadcasts for a little while now. And yes, if you follow this blog on merely a discretionary level, you know how willing I am to jump at these types of products, even if they don’t appear as though they will stick and potentially become the norm for some television watchers.
But Aereo is a little different. Chet Kanojia, the product’s founder and chief executive, is being smart about bringing his product to the masses. The device is initially launching — and thus will be available — in only New York City. All reports claim that he touted a “step at a time, market at at time” approach with this thing, which, when compared with the other products looking to do the same kind of thing (what’s up, simple.tv and Boxee?), makes Aereo look much more thought-out, and much more likely to succeed in the long term.
The other difference between this and other devices comes down to two words: Barry. Diller.
He created FOX. Or, as some of you might say, he created a fourth Big Network, when the world was fairly certain it had only three. Diller’s company pumped more than $20 million into this thing last year and the executive himself is now set to join Aereo’s board.
“Anyone will tell you, whether it’s Amazon or Hulu or Apple, that they can’t get enough programming that people want to see to — so to speak, ‘break the chain’ — because all of the programming is controlled within the circle,” Diller told Stelter. “I think if anything it will add viewers to broadcasting.”
Naturally, questions have risen regarding the logistics of this. Both Kanojia and Diller seemed to fully embrace the “wait … are you sure this thing is legal?” questions that reporters lobbed their way. Because the service will cost a small fee ($12 a month for this first run) — thus, theoretically making this a simple case of consumers “renting” whichever antenna he or she utilizes as a result of this service — the suits at Aereo argue that the product will fall under a “consumer controlled private exhibition,” which basically means that it isn’t all that different from the conventional cable television packages some of you may use today.
We now pause to ask a question.
If one of the arguments for such a thing is the implementation of this product along with other services — as Stelter pointed out above, if you have this thing and a Netflix or Hulu Plus membership, you basically have access to everything except “Sportscenter” — then how many “other products” will it take before people just say it’s too much. Twelve bucks for this. Ten bucks for a Netflix subscription. And then however much you normally pay for Internet access, anyways. Add those together and you get … well, you get something that might look an awful lot like a normal cable television bill.
It all adds up to one big, fat, what’s the point? Well, one of the upsides for Aereo is that because it’s built in HTML5, everything sort of feels like an app. Or, in other words, you can now watch the nightly news and reruns of “Jeopardy!” in real time on your phone, tablet or any other mobile device you might prefer. Apple TV and Roku boxes are both supported, so if you have begun the cord-cutting process fairly recently, chances are this thing would have you covered. And — because we all know how much you like to record “The Voice” and watch it later to fast-forward through the commercials and Carson Daly voiceovers — DVR technology is here, too (and up to 40 hours of storage to boot). A cloud for the DVR and a license for the antenna. It’s like Jay-Z and R. Kelly — The Best Of Both Worlds.
If for some impossible reason you happen to be living in New York City, yet reading this silly, little blog, the product is available to you right now. Yes. This very second. The rest of us will have to wait, as plans to expand have not been detailed just yet. (As a side, I have to say that of all the options I’ve trolled for on here, this is without a doubt the most promising of the bunch. No question, this isn’t going to be the last we hear from Kanojia, Diller or Aereo.)
As for now, the service is invitation-only and in addition to CBS, NBC, ABC and FOX, the cloud service will also offer PBS — which makes me unfathomably excited — and the CW — which makes people who love vampires unfathomably excited. Abraham Lincoln, who has been rumored to be spending some of his time hunting vampires as of late, was unavailable for comment.