The idea is interesting, if rather convoluted. Aereo takes existing broadcasts of stations like CBS, NBC, and FOX, and beams them to customers via a dedicated browser app. The service, which is right now only offered in New York City, runs for $12 a month. That's a bit much to ask for something that most people can get for free.
But Aereo's founders hope that the convenience of having access to broadcast television on multiple devices will justify the monthly price tag. The service also offers DVR features, which certainly sweetens the deal.
But the legal issues should be evident here, as Aereo's basic business model is certainly not something broadcasters and cable companies can be all that happy with.
Aereo has sidestepped the legal problems, at least so far, by stretching definitions. The company draws its most significant legal precedent from a 2008 Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that upheld Cablevision's move to offer DVR features in its set top boxes. In that case, Cablevision held DVR boxes at its own offices, but ceded remote control of them to its customers, which the court didn't find too much fault with.
Aereo follows a similar strategy, assigning to each customer an antenna whose content is streamed directly to their devices. Legally, that's not supposed to be any different from having the antenna in your own house. It's just one long cord.
The legal grounding is admittedly a bit dubious, but here's the bigger question: Is Aereo what cable cutters have been looking for? Like Boxee's recently-announced Live TV Tuner, the service doesn't offer cable television content, which is 80% of what cable cutters want anyway. But both Aereo and Boxee Live TV Tuner do show that there is some room for disruption in the cable area. And that can only be a good thing.