An Internet-based company called Aereo is disrupting the way people watch television, and networks are not happy.
Aereo provides its subscribers with a tiny, TV antenna to pick up broadcast signals from network stations, and streams television content to their wireless devices.
Aereo is already in New York, Boston, and Atlanta, and it is coming to Utah on Monday. Houston, Dallas, and Detroit will also pick up Aereo in a couple of weeks.
Network stations have sued Aereo, alleging the service distributes their content without a license, and without the consent of the television signals’ owners.
Now basic cable companies are feeling the heat.
MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Meghna Chakrabarti, in for Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW.
It's been two weeks and there's still no end in sight for a dispute that has blacked out CBS TV stations on Time Warner Cable. They're fighting over how much Time Warner should pay to carry local CBS stations. And now, it looks like the two sides could be going at it until the start of the NFL season, which means Time Warner Cable subscribers might not be able to watch some of their favorite teams play.
But the dispute is good news for a start-up company that's giving customers a new way to watch local stations without cable. And before you say, yeah, it's called an antenna. Duh. Yes, but there is more to it than that. Reporter Curt Nickisch from HERE AND NOW contributor station WBUR has been following this and joins us now. Hi, Curt.
CURT NICKISCH, BYLINE: Hi, Meghna.
CHAKRABARTI: So what's this new alternative to cable?
NICKISCH: Yeah. So the company is called is Aereo. And when you use it, you're basically renting an antenna from them and using the Internet as your cord. You know, local broadcast stations, they broadcast. They send their HD signals over the air for free. And Aereo basically sets up thousands of tiny antennas, and the company streams the TV signal coming through that antenna to your computer, to your TV, through something like a Roku box to your iPhone. And it's not just live streaming, it's also an online DVR. They have servers there right next to the antennas that will record it, and you can watch stuff later. So you can watch that football game and just kind of skip through and miss all that commercials later.
CHAKRABARTI: And Aereo charges you for the service, though.
NICKISCH: Yeah, $8 a month for 20 hours of online storage is the basics here.
CHAKRABARTI: OK. But just to be clear, because they're grabbing signals over the air, we're not talking about Aereo replacing cable stations like HBO, ESPN or CNN.
NICKISCH: Yeah. Yeah. So it's basically the local over-the-air stations like ABC, Fox, PBS. So what a lot of cable companies actually sell is basic cable often for more than $8 a month.
CHAKRABARTI: OK. So where across the United States can you get Aereo?
NICKISCH: Right now, they're in New York City, Boston and Atlanta, but they're expanding as fast as they can set up these little antenna farms across the country. All of Utah will get Aereo on Monday. Miami, Dallas and Houston are slated for next month. And they've got like another dozen markets planned for the coming weeks after that.
CHAKRABARTI: OK. I can imagine that some of these content providers, these networks aren't too happy about it. In fact, they've sued Aereo in several states.
NICKISCH: Yeah. They are basically accusing Aereo of being a freeloader, saying it's rebroadcasting their shows without permission. And they're mad because they get money from cable companies to carry local TV because a lot of local subscribers want that local news, and they want Aereo to pay too. But the company says it's just doing for people what they can already do themselves, set up an antenna and a DVR.
CHAKRABARTI: Except they are still charging them eight bucks a month to do it.
NICKISCH: Yeah. But a lot of people don't do it because it's a pain, or you maybe don't get all the signals. It doesn't do well. And it's so instantaneous and easy to use.
CHAKRABARTI: Well, we should know that Aereo has one of the cases against it in New York state. There are still others pending. But, Curt, assuming that Aereo gets to keep doing what it's doing beyond these lawsuits, where does this take television in the next five years or so?
NICKISCH: No one really knows for sure. But here's what everyone, including cable companies, are really afraid of: they've seen how music used to be sold by the album, but now, you can just buy the song. They've seen how people used to subscribe to the newspaper with all these sections that they didn't read. But now, they can just read the articles that they want. And they're afraid that they're going to lose the bundle too.
Aereo, for instance, has added Bloomberg TV, which has had a hard time getting on a lot of cable stations because they have to pay. And so you can actually see a scenario where Aereo becomes the next cable. Now, they say they don't want to do that. They're not trying to recreate a bad system, but, you know, it's anyone's guess.
CHAKRABARTI: Curt Nickisch covers business and technology for our home station, WBUR. Curt, thanks so much.
NICKISCH: My pleasure. Thank you.
CHAKRABARTI: Well, still to come, the Boston criminal you may not have heard of. He's John Willis, a.k.a. White Devil John. Back in one minute. HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
Jeremy Hobson joins Robin Young as co-host of Here & Now in its new 2-hour format, from WBUR and NPR.
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