Making The Case For Aereo

Dave Zatz —  January 19, 2013 — 16 Comments

aereo-verge

My Twitter pal Michael Turk, whose name you may recognize from a tenure at the NCTA, recently wrote up his disdain for Aereo:

You know what is 100% free and doesn’t require any payment to the cable industry? Broadcast TV. This guy is suggesting people pay money every month – albeit to a different company – to watch something that is broadcast OVER THE AIR. [...] if all you are watching are broadcast channels, you certainly don’t need to be paying Aereo or anyone else for it.

While Turk makes some reasonable points regarding onerous retransmission fees and Aereo’s legal challenges, there’s way more to the service than basic access to broadcast channels. $8/month grants you access to two micro antennas and 20 hours of cloud DVR storage space (or $12 for 40hrs). So not only does Aereo provide “live” broadcast television, but you can schedule season passes and the like. Further, you’re not confined to a television and set-top box in your home as Aereo pretty much allows you to watch your live and recorded television programming via any modern browser… including the ones found on our smartphones and tablets.

But the main reason Aereo appeals is that my local broadcast stations and the FCC have failed me. Over the years, I’ve flirted with “cutting the cord” yet the digital transition didn’t go exactly as planned in all regions and I’m effectively a hostage of pay TV. Prior to the transition, I had no problem receiving ATSC OTA HD broadcasts via an indoor antenna and was a very early (and very happy) adopter. Yet once the switch was flipped and channels were remapped, including a transmission migration from UHF to VHF, I  found myself on the other side of the digital cliff, losing access to a significant amount programming. As an apartment dweller for many years, a roof top antenna was not an option. And, now, as a home owner I don’t know that I want to pay to desecrate my roof and open walls for new cable runs with hopes that maybe I’ll regain OTA reception.

Live television, time shifting, and place shifting. On tablets and Roku. For just 8 bucks? Sounds good to me. Especially since I’m fortunate enough to ride Verizon’s fiber – high speeds, no caps. Yet the question of video quality arises. And I’ll be among the first to evaluate Aereo once they expand beyond NYC into more markets, including mine here in the DC metro area. Assuming they survive the courtroom onslaught.

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16 responses to Making The Case For Aereo

  1. To put that $8 in perspective, TiVo charges me $13/month for guide data. Netflix and Hulu charge the same $8 for content. Sirius XM runs like $15/month for access from 1 radio. So Aereo seems pretty reasonably priced to me.

  2. “But the main reason Aereo appeals is that my local broadcast stations and the FCC have failed me.”

    I strongly believe you are not alone. I’d love to see numbers on what percentage of the country has adequate OTA reception. I’d bet it’s far, far, far, far short of 100%.

    From the sample size of you and me, I’d say the number with adequate OTA reception is 0%.

    “And, now, as a home owner I don’t know that I want to pay to desecrate my roof and open walls for new cable runs”

    As always, consider a personal blimp tethered to your home.

    You can even attach a Stick-n-find to the blimp to let you know if it flies away during high winds.

    Seems like the easiest solution all around, no?

  3. Check out TabletTV that Granite Broadcasting are developing:

    A pocket sized antenna/WiFi unit to pick up SD/HD ATSC transmission and sent to any WiFi connected portable device. It enables time shifting, recording to the device and broadcast subscription VOD with or without a roof antenna. For example a selection of 50 or so movies available/month transmitted over the broadcast airwaves.

  4. That surprises me that your signal was worse after the digital transition. Most of the channels that did move did so to VHF which is generally easier to receive. Perhaps you had a UHF only antenna?

  5. I’ve mailed you about my antenna struggles a few times over the years and have tried and returned more antennas than I can count. And, unlike the unwashed masses, I have a pretty good understanding of VHF versus UHF. It’s a nice theory, but after the transition many in our region lost access. Some probably needed to rescan and some probably needed new antennas, but there have also been documented transmission problems and I think at least one local station had requested a waiver from the FCC to increase power. Complicating matters the last 6 months, since we’ve moved, is that I’m about 6 miles further west (possibly with an airport between our home and the stations).

    2 D.C. Stations Lost to Viewers in Digital TV Transition
    The Federal Communications Commission is looking into reports of lost stations in several markets, including Chicago and Philadelphia. In some cases, stations may have to increase power levels or add translators to extend the signal to more viewers.

    WJLA Says It Is Taking Care OF DTV Business
    He also said WJLA owner Allbritton has sent out trucks to test signal strength. “If there is a signal strength problem, we will ask the FCC to do something, but I’m not sure what.” VHF’s in other markets with signal strength issues have successfully negotiated deals with other stations to boost their power, deals the FCC has approved in Philadelphia, Chicago, and elsewhere. According to an FCC spokesman, those deals can include other stations agreeing to accept the increased interference from a power boost or boosting their own power to match.

    My next indoor antenna attempt will be the upcoming Channel Master SMARTenna CM-3000HD.

  6. I am a happy OTA user, but I totally see the benefit of Aereo. It should be compared to the bare-bones cable package, and that costs an astonishing $22.95 here (Cox Communications), and that is without any bells and whistles. I don’t know how big this market is, but I bet it’s more than negligible. $8 instead of $23, with more functionality – where do I sign up?

  7. Yeah, but you’re trying to reason with a dead-media guy. It’s like trying to talk sense to a cheese sandwich or reasoning with a rock – it’s pointless. Since his lobby group and its sponsors aren’t getting their cut from Aereo, in his little mind, Aereo is an unlicensed thief (unlike a cable company which is a licensed thief). There’s no point in arguing with him – just console him with “I told you so” when the model goes boom and he’s out of a job. :)

  8. “My next indoor antenna attempt will be the upcoming Channel Master SMARTenna CM-3000HD.”

    That antenna is so damn smart that they have to spell it like a pirate would.

    Still not convinced on the tethered personal blimp solution? I bet Google would pay you to advertise on the blimp, which could help defray the initial costs.

    —–

    “The Federal Communications Commission is looking into reports of lost stations in several markets”

    Harry Shearer has been covering the utter mess of OTA reception following the switchover during his weekly Le Show in a semi-regular “Digital Wonderland” segment. Good stuff.

  9. How great would it be if the networks would just join together to create a one-stop app so every US consumer could pick up their local signals on their phone, tablet, etc?

    I have Directv but would gladly pay extra so that if in out of town I could watch my local channels. Slingbox has helped but is sometimes unreliable.

    Amazing how cable has so much power that this will never happen. Too much fear of cord cutters.

    Come to think of it. I’d love the FCC to mandate it.

  10. Yeah, you can pretty much forget indoor antennas for OTA.

    I’m getting ready to pay a few hundred for an outdoor install (no way am I going up on the chimney 30+ feet in the air on an extension ladder).

    But another competitor to Aereo might be Hulu+.

    It offers most broadcast shows (CBS is the exception) and a ton of older content that Aereo will never have.

  11. I think there’s massive consumer value in Aereo. DVR alone makes the fee worthwhile. Add placeshifting on top, and you’ve got a good deal.

    Part of the argument against Aereo is that you can get a lot of the content not only OTA, but for free online. The caveat there, however, is that you’re at the mercy of programmers’ decisions about what to stream and when. With Aereo you can record the content you want and play it back whenever and wherever.

    Mind you, I don’t think Aereo will survive in its current form. The money that broadcasters now make from retransmission fees is insane, and they’re not going to allow Aereo to undercut that. I think Aereo’s technology will survive, but not as part of an $8/month service.

  12. “Mind you, I don’t think Aereo will survive in its current form. The money that broadcasters now make from retransmission fees is insane, and they’re not going to allow Aereo to undercut that.”

    I will continue to assert that I think Aereo has a far better chance in the courts than is the CW.

    OTA + public airwaves + individual personal antennas = something different than all the other cases we’re familiar with.

    Now, that doesn’t mean that Aereo is going to conquer the world. The market is limited, as I don’t think MSO’s will be able to incorporate the Aereo model into the rest of their package, since most of the broadcast nets have significant other assets they can deny to any MSO that tries such a maneuver.

    But that doesn’t mean that Aereo might not be able to carve out a niche, in its exact current form. No bigger implications, but something quite real nonetheless.

  13. If Aereo has the money to fight this thing to the end, it could be *YEARS* before we have a final ruling. Cablevision started rolling out their RS-DVR in early 2006 and the Supreme Court ruled that it was legal (well, sort of, they declined to review the case) in Jun 2009, some 3+ years later. Just look at the timeline for Apple’s/Samsung’s patent suits against each other. Same story.

    Its going to be 2015 or later before we have a final ruling in the Aereo case. Without injunctive relief (already off the table), if Aereo has the money, they can be rolling this thing out for years before we get a final ruling.

    Personally I also think Aereo has a pretty strong legal case given the “long wires”/”logically equivalent” argument is very similar to the one CVC used in the RS-DVR trial.

    Doesn’t matter what fees the broadcasters have negotiated with cable cos that Aereo isn’t paying.

  14. I have the same feeling about Aereo… I can’t get Fox or NBC super well because they switched them to VHF… so Aereo might be my best option.

    @Ben and @Dave one of the goofy things with the digital transition was that the system we use doesn’t really work right with VHF. The error correction just doesn’t work right over those frequencies. A lot of TV stations decided to stay with their VHF channels because of the old idea that a lower channel number meant prominence. Of course, because of virtual channel numbers, the channel you’re actually on has nothing to do with your channel number. The other reason is that VHF signals go further… but if the transmission is already choppy, that doesn’t help much.

    The FCC has actually be considering some stuff with channel reallocation which might fix some of this. One of the ideas is to actually switch many of them over to UHF and give them way higher power…. but who knows if that will ever happen.

  15. Well, if you have got Verizon FiOS, I am pretty sure you can pick up the clear QAM channels off the existing cable wihtout a STB. I believe by law they have to provide a lower tier service at low cost. The local cableco will give you basics for very little per month too. It’s not $8 bucks, but totally worth it since you won’t have to muck around with stupid antennae and flipping inputs on TV or getting signed up with a company that will surely be sued out of business, if they don’t go out of business because it’s a lame business. Plus, with low tier cable, you can leverage your existing DVRs and not worry with the weather. Just sayin’ cutting the cord is more trouble than it’s when you break it down. Just stay in the warm embrace of your monopolistic cable provider. They will make everything easy for you.

  16. CIABFH – Not sure what you’re advocating? ClearQAM is dead and cable is already encrypting the channels in a couple of markets. Those low end digital cable tiers are in the $80 range. Only low income HH get access to the low low rates which are still $30 more than Aereo. Also, they aren’t getting Cloud DVR. The value prop that Aereo is providing is really intriguing and I can’t wait to get this in LA.

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