What is Aereo and why does it have the TV networks in an uproar?

What is Aereo and why does it have the TV networks in an uproar?

Summary: Aereo is the new internet service company that has CBS and Fox threatening to shut down their broadcast stations and move their TV networks to cable. But what is Aereo exactly — and why does it have TV networks in such a state?


When Chet Kanojia came up with the idea of Aereo, I'm sure he never dreamed that broadcast TV networks, such as Fox, would threaten to shutter their local stations and move their content exclusively to cable to avoid it being shared over the internet.

Aereo wants to take broadcast TV to the cloud. (Credit: John P Falcone/CNET)

Aereo, itself, is based on a very simple idea. Many people want to cut the cable cord, but find it hard to watch the major broadcast networks even with an over-the-air (OTA) antenna. Aereo takes several existing technologies and creates a packaged solution for these people.

First, Aereo sets up clusters of miniature antennas in an area. When you sign up for the service, you are assigned two of those antennas. One is for watching live shows and the other is for recording programs. Your local OTA shows are then streamed to a cloud-based digital video recorder (DVR)-like service.

This isn't just a TiVo in the clouds, though. Whether you're watching a "live" show or a recorded one, you're creating, the company states, "three separate unique copies of the show, each in a different bit rate optimized for different streaming conditions. The lowest bit rate file is ideal for streaming over 3G connections. The medium rate file will work well over most wi-fi connections. The highest rate file is intended for really fast broadband connections. While watching, you can choose the Video Quality on your device. If you select 'auto', you will automatically choose the best bit rate for your current network conditions".

The only customer problem with this is that, at most, you can only record up to 40 hours of video. If you're like me, that's nowhere near enough storage.

When you want to watch your local TV, you then stream your shows to a wide variety of devices. Currently, you can watch Aereo shows on PCs with up-to-date versions of Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera, or Internet Explorer web browsers. You can also watch shows on Apple iPads; iPhones running iOS 4.x or better; Apple TV, using Airplay; and Roku units with 3.0 or higher firmware. Android support will be arriving shortly.

At this time, the service is only available in New York City. You can't, for example, subscribe to the service in Chicago and watch New York City channels. Aereo is planning on expanding to 22 new cities in 2013.

Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? It's really not much different from what I currently do with my OTA antenna and my TiVo Premiere.

Many broadcast companies see this, however, as threatening their business models. While advertising was once the life's blood for broadcast TV, over the last few years, cable and satellite operator retransmission fees has become vital to their business. Aereo doesn't pay such a surcharge. As a result, several of these companies, including CBS, ZDNet's parent company, have taken Aereo to court on copyright grounds.

In the courtroom, the networks have lost twice. Given that the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that they have "not demonstrated that they are likely to prevail on the merits of this claim in their copyright infringement action", it seems unlikely they'll win in the courts.

So it is that CBS and Fox are threatening to turn off OTA broadcasts in NYC if Aereo continues to stream broadcast TV without paying retransmission fees. As an alternative to switching to black, CBS and Fox are proposing that their OTA signals would only be available to OTA subscribers using some as-yet-unknown digital rights management (DRM) package.

Let's hope that all sides can come to a mutual agreement and that it doesn't come to that.

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  • Subject line? uh well to comment on the article would be the subject.

    [The only customer problem with this is that, at most, you can only record up to 40 hours of video. If you're like me, that's nowhere near enough storage.]

    How does one watch more than 40 hours per week (and not constantly fall behind once trying to watch what you already have recorded)? Sounds moronic.

    Anything that gets TV networks mad MUST be good for the consumer.

    Better advice, stop watching mind numbing TV programs and Sport all together. O'right then why would you even need bother to exist?
    John Cram
    • Sometimes people like to keep recordings indefinitely

      Recordings such as movies, favorite TV shows and sports which may come out on DVD later are the sort of things people would want to keep. That way they don't have to pay for the DVD. Or maybe it won't come out on DVD later, thus the recording is their only option.
      Michael Kelly
      • Not true

        Some cable companies delete recordings older than a certain date on their DVR service, without your intervention or consent.
    • My 2 cents on 40 hours per week

      is plenty. Unless you're too lazy or have a reason not to delete recordings. Personally I'm too cheap living on a fixed income. Too cheap to pay $40 to Dish to use my hard drive as a DvR. And pay for the energy to run it. Or buy a fourth tv tuner after AMD dropped support for legacy ATi tuners. If I move as intended, OTA or Hughes satellite supplied internet would be my choice for TV. If Aereo were available in the boonies I'd subscribe along with Netflix. Total for tv= cost of OTA antenna, satellite internet, Netflix, and Aereo. As for storage, I've hard drives laying around.
    • Get 'em mad

      Anything that gets TV networks mad MUST be good for the consumer.

      Better advice, stop watching mind numbing TV programs and Sport all together

      That's what I did years ago. No movies and no new music.   I read books, and buy (mostly) fifty cent used CD's; I have a changer that can hold 330 of them.

      It might make the TV networks mad. Don't know as it's good for consmers, though.

      RIAA does not like me.
      I buy my music on CD.
      I buy them used and next to free;
      RIAA does NOT like me.

      My dialup line is far too slow
      To download music don't 'you know?
      My radio is on the air,
      For online music, I don't care.

      And in my player, decades old,
      I've folk songs, klezmer, Russians bold....
      With obscure labels yet untold,
      My carousel is quite enrolled.

      RUM tiddle iddle iddle RUM tim tum!
      RUM tiddle iddle iddle RUM tim tum!
      RUM tiddle iddle iddle RUM tim tum!
      And now my little rhyme is done!
      • get em mad

        My cousin, whose well off, uses dialup. Probably free. With the cost of everything increasing and the cutback of benefits, you may soon have more people joining the band wagon, ka5s@... So while many are losing everything they have, networks are striving only to increase their profits. When many can't afford to pay where will the viewers be? Then the networks will increase the cost even more?
    • ....40 hours a week..????

      @John.....Where did you come up with "a week" ?? The Moronic sound you hear might just be an echo?
      What IS questionable is, why pay a TiVo subscription when a tuner device and Media Center can do SO much more for SO much less.
    • Have you never heard of delayed viewing

      Who said anything about watching 40 hours of TV per week? I get 100 hours on my DVR hard drive, and it's usually quite full. With my busy schedule, I don't get the chance to watch as much TV as I'd like to watch. I have programs that I've never seen, that I would like to find the time to watch, that have been sitting on my drive for over a year! I have the entire last season of Breaking Bad beckoning. I'll make the time sooner or later! Does that still sound moronic, or are you one of those people that think you're just not "hip" enough if you watch any TV at all. There's some fantastic entertainment on the tube now. You should have a look!
    • Aereo really doesn't amke any sense

      interestingly, one thing that i haven't seen mentioned here or even in the ads for things like Direct TV, is, what in the world are people going to be about Internet access. I've used Comcast for years, and they not only supply a bountiful selection of TV, including the wonderful option of the fairly new Science Channel, but highly reliable Internet service including the increasingly vital email services. Granted, for their best packages they aren't cheap, but I've found their reliability to be outstanding and there's no way I want to take the chance of getting things lost in interspatial transmissions. Further, the programming that I've seen from other providers have nothing like the quality of HD quality fof video that Comcast seems to take for granted. May they prosper!
  • You don't get it

    "How does one watch more than 40 hours per week (and not constantly fall behind once trying to watch what you already have recorded)? Sounds moronic."

    Where did the 40 hours a week come from? My wife and I usually watch shows we enjoy maybe a total of 10-15 hrs a week. This cannot keep up with the broadcast rate so we time shift. With 10-20 episodes in a season and five or six shows to watch, 40 hours of storage won't cut it as we often get close to the ~120 hour limit on our DVR -- happening about now as rerun season is about to start.
    • There is no rerun season anymore!

      Just when the broadcast nets are starting their reruns, the cable nets are broadcasting new shows. There is no rerun season anymore!
      • We just went through a "rerun season".

        Most of the series (that weren't preempted entirely) have been showing reruns during the basketball playoffs. For example, Person Of Interest and Elementary both aired reruns last night. On top of that, some of my favorite cable series, like Sons of Anarchy and Justified, are between seasons right now.

        We only watch an hour-and-a-half a night, and I record quite a few shows, but we have NOTHING on the DVR to watch tonight.
    • I think their point is....

      How are you *ever* going to catch up? You'll have more hours recorded the following week, etc, and still only have the same free hours to watch 1 weeks worth. There's a theoretical limit of (24x7) - 168 viewing hours in a week, you could watch, without doing trivial things like sleep or work and other things. :)
  • 40 hours too much?

    Well we seem to be getting off topic with the comments section, but..

    40 hours may well be far too small for two reasons:

    1. Households with lots of people. Divide 40 by more than 2 or 3 and that is not much per person per week.

    2. There are while periods (usually around major holidays) where there is not much good on...
  • Pay for your TV

    Aereo is basically a cable TV service without cables. They serve the same purpose without the expense of maintaining coax.

    If a cable franchise has to pay retransmission fees, why shouldn’t Aereo? Why do they expect a free ride?

    This whole thing reminds me of what Napster tried to do all those years ago.
    • Co-Opted Technology

      What all these content providers did with digital technology is to use political lobbying and the legal system in the form of revised copyright laws to co opt the technology. Then with the support of the special interests government and legal system they sued businesses and citizens into bankruptcy and suicides, all in the name of greed. This Aereo does not make copies anywhere within the system, and therefore is outside the grasp of the monopoly copyright system. Within current laws if I receive a broadcast TV signal, I can pretty much legally do whatever I want with it EXCEPT MAKE A COPY OF IT, or USE IT FOR MASS AUDIENCE ENTERTAINMENT. Aereo does neither of these because each client has their own private transmitter.
    • Re: If a cable franchise has to pay retransmission fees, why shouldn’t Aere

      Because they're not "retransmitting" anything. They're just doing what any private person can do with a video recorder, just packaged up as a service. If they are infringing copyright, then why aren't users of video recorders being prosecuted?
      • I'm sure in the end they will have to pay, or actually the consumer will.

        I always wondered how we got to the point where cable TV operators have to pay networks to rebroadcast something that is freely available over the air. When cable TV first came out they did not have to pay these fees, networks were happy that their audience was being expanded... that is until the networks saw how much money the cable companies were making and decided they wanted a cut. I'm sure the fees came about due to lobbying efforts of the networks to change or create laws to make the cable companies pay up... the same will probably happen with Aereo and other services like them, its just a matter of time.
    • Legally speaking, it's quite different

      Aereo works by using antennas OWNED BY THE CONSUMER. Essentially, they are saying that this is just like using your own antenna. How it all works in the back ground, I'm not quite sure, but their legal claim is based on ownership of the antenna.

      Since the United States Citizen owns the airwaves, FOX and CBS use the over the air systems and come under FCC regs. If the antenna are really owned by end users, citizens or what ever you want to call them, it's more of a sharing system, managed by a company.

      Throws copyright into a whole new tizzy.

      Good fun to see how this will turn out.
    • If

      I wear a tshirt advertising Coke, who pays? me or Coke? If Aereo retransmit Fox, giving them a wider coverage than they would originally have had, who pays? Aereo or Fox?