Does Aereo Have a Back-Up Plan?

Mari Silbey —  September 17, 2012

Broadcasters aren’t giving up on shutting Aereo down. A new court brief filed on Friday has several programmers fighting a judge’s ruling this summer that Aereo is legally in the clear (for now) to continue operating. The new filing claims that the ruling ignores an existing statute which requires licensing payment “whether the members of the public capable of receiving the performance or display receive it in the same place or in separate places and at the same time or different times.”

We’ve always known that Aereo has an uphill battle ahead of it, but one thing that’s occurred to me more recently is that the company may have a back-up plan. CEO Chet Kanojia was the star speaker at last week’s Multichannel cloud TV event, and I had a chance to ask him afterward if Aereo is working on an alternative business model in case the current one doesn’t work out. Kanojia was adamant that the company is only focused on the here and now, but he also agreed that there are other applications for Aereo’s technology. Personally, I wonder if Aereo’s tiny antennas and transcoding tech could be repurposed for something other than just broadcast content. The entire TV delivery system is changing after all. Could Aereo help other TV service companies move to a cloud-based distribution model?

It’s also interesting to note that Kanojia has serious street cred in the cable industry. He worked with Time Warner Cable on its Maestro solution. Maestro didn’t pan out, but Cablevision picked up the idea and ran with it for its RS-DVR service. So Kanojia is no stranger to this space.

10 responses to Does Aereo Have a Back-Up Plan?

  1. Aereo seems like a cool idea, but one that was doomed to face constant legal opposition from the beginning. They HAD to know that. If Kenojia really has experience and respect in the cable industry, there’s no way he went into this blind.

  2. The idea of them upping the channel availability really fascinates me. For instance, the digital subchannels like Bounce TV, RetroTV, or CoolTV could sign a distribution deal with Aereo and instantly be available in markets they don’t have affiliate agreements in. When they DO land distribution there, possibly by breaking the ice by already appearing in that market via Aereo, then they’ve already had a headstart on building an audience in that particular market. Ditto to the fringe cable channels like RFD TV which in a few areas broadcast over the air and even allows viewers to subscribe alacarte

  3. Cont… That allow viewers to subscribe alacarte to their feed and watch online. These kind of channels are already putting all the effort into broadcasting SOMETHING 24 hours a day; they seem to just be looking to get distribution and more eyeballs on what their doing.

    Then you also have a service I just discovered last week called Sky Angel. They have a “family friendly” subscription service that goes strictly over broadband. They have a box like Dish Network but no actual DISH. Aereo could easily then just replace the Sky Angel backend

  4. Cont… (sorry typing on my iPhone) replace the Sky Angel backend with their own and eliminate the need for the boxes. OR they could launch a competing service like that OR They could run the backend for an unlimited amount of services like that and allow the various services to worry about signing up channel distribution agreements. It’s just endless potential I think!

    By the way, i’d love to see Zatz do a story on Sky Angel. I have never heard ONE thing about it and stumbled across them last week. They have signed big channels like Fox News in addition to the likely suspects. They charge $32 a month for a basic paired down package. The fact that it is all delivered online and they have signed big channels seems like their service shod get some more attention. I don’t even see YouTube reviews of their hardware etc which I find odd. They definitely need some marketing help!

  5. Mari, if you wouldn’t mind, day dream a little here about what you envision as the possible Aereo applications you are thinking of. Am I thinking the same as you or am I missing stuff?

  6. “It’s also interesting to note that Kanojia has serious street cred in the cable industry. He worked with Time Warner Cable on its Maestro solution. Maestro didn’t pan out, but Cablevision picked up the idea and ran with it for its RS-DVR service. So Kanojia is no stranger to this space.”

    C’mon Mari, stretching the truth there a little no? The RS-DVR was developed at Arroyo (later bought by Cisco) following the rules CVC layed down to make it a fair fight when they inevitably got sued. Maestro had already been nearly shut down. The two don’t have anything to do with each other. Sorry.

  7. Glenn- Ha! Yeah that’s fair. It’s how Multichannel presented his background, but I should have countered with more skepticism. Regardless, the guy’s got a cable background. Given how (let’s be nice and say) “quirky” the industry is, I still think that’s critical for anyone who’s going to overlapping with the cablecos. In other words, this isn’t an Internet guy with no idea how the television industry works.

  8. Luke- I’ve run into Sky Angel too, but while doing research, not because I’ve seen press on them. Hmm. Might be worth writing something up.

    As for Aereo, well, the tiny antennas could be used for any broadcast signals, but I also wonder whether the company has any secret sauce for pulling source satellite feeds and turning that video around easily for IP delivery. Essentially bypassing the cable headend altogether. No idea if that’s remotely plausible though.

  9. If the court rules in favor of Aereo, would the local affiliates start streaming their content, since they don’t have to build out the antennas to receive their own signal?

  10. shwru980r,

    If the court rules in favor of Aereo, I bet Comcast and Time Warner and Verizon would want to copy the approach to avoid paying affiliate fees for the over the air stations. Now, given that ABC is part of a Disney/ESPN package that might not work out so well in all cases–I assume all of the media companies are now negotiating for bundles of channels, not just a fee for each channel. But if there are any locals that aren’t part of a package, the cable cos would try to simply stop paying them. Whether they’d license Aereo technology to do that, or try their own ‘creative’ antenna approach we’d have to wait and see…