Another Loose Thread for Cord Cutters

Unraveled Wires

The current incarnation of Aereo isn’t the “future of television” I’ve been hoping for, but it is sawing through one more thread in the process of cutting the cord on cable television.

About four years ago in a fit of pique over bad reception and high prices, we ditched cable. We did what more and more people have been doing over the last several years, becoming cord cutters. We subscribed to Netflix and Hulu Plus, and bought a couple of pancake antennas for local channels. The quality of what we watch went up immediately. Last week, I finally bought the little jewel known as Chromecast and am surprised to find that it gives me even more choices that I’m actually interested in, right on the family room screen.

Enter Aereo. This service is amazingly simple. Each customer gets a small antenna housed in a data center. The service captures local over-the-air channels and rebroadcasts them for the customer to view on the Internet. The basic service costs $8 per month. Not expensive, but my $30 pancake antennas are the better bargain. Here’s what you get that makes Aereo worthy of consideration: 20 hours of DVR recording space, with an option to upgrade to more space for a slightly higher fee.

Recording television is the missing element with our cord-cut setup. There are some network shows that aren’t available on those services, and being able to time-shift programming – record and watch later – is tough for antenna users. There are a few DVRs that work with over-the-air broadcasts, but they’re more expensive, typically around $250-350 or more.

Hmmm… $96 per year for what I’ll call “DVR service”. I might buy in for that price.

Like any new technology, Aereo has some… well, let’s call them skeptics. There are several lawsuits in the works to try to slow or stop them. I think game-changers always experience this. I’ll bet the guy who came home to the cave with the first wheel had to deal with neighbors who said, “Why would you want to MOVE anything? If you start MOVING things, it will be chaos around here!!”

Who are these Aereo-skeptics? For one, the NFL thinks it’s a bad idea. They assert that Aereo’s model could potentially allow anyone to record games around the country and rebroadcast them at will. For your average football fan, it’s not really feasible to do the former right now. You would have to subscribe in every NFL city – which Aereo doesn’t serve yet – and pay subscriptions for each. But I see the potential here. And one of the most impressive things about the NFL is how their Chief Counsel heads off threats early. They do their job best by proactively protecting the NFL Sunday Ticket offering, before anyone gets any big ideas.

Of course, the other skeptics include the cable companies – billion-dollar corporations whose livelihood depend on the status quo. They’re filing suit where they can, and supporting content partners where they can, to try to slow or stop Aereo. As I’ve mentioned before, there are a few things I like about the cable industry, but here’s the bottom line I don’t like: they aren’t listening to their customers.

Aereo is listening… mostly to customers, but I’m sure they’re also listening to the plaintiff-companies who want them to stop supplying a service the marketplace desires. Personally, I think the company who should be most worried is TIVO, since Aereo’s DVR service competes more directly with their time-shifting capabilities.

This stuff isn’t that hard. I say, let innovation rule, let the marketplace decide. Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia said recently in Time Magazine, “If your product doesn’t add enough value to command the price you want, people just leave and go elsewhere.”

If Aereo has the most popular offering, they will win. If the traditional cable companies come up with something everyone has to have, they will. Any day now, someone else could come along with something even better.

But in the meantime, let’s stop trying to litigate innovation out of existence.


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