The Internet company that challenged cable and satellite TV services by offering inexpensive live television online plans to expand beyond New York City this spring.
In the wake of a federal court ruling that tentatively endorsed its legality, Aereo will bring its $8-a-month service to Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington and 18 other markets in the U.S., as well as to New York's suburbs. For the past year, the service had been limited to New York City residents as the company fine-tuned its technology and awaited guidance on whether its unlicensed use of free, over-the-air broadcasts amounted to a copyright violation.
A federal judge in New York ruled in July that the service doesn't appear to violate copyright law because individual subscribers are assigned their own, tiny antenna at Aereo's Brooklyn data center, making it analogous to the free signal a consumer would get with a regular antenna at home. Aereo spent the subsequent months selecting markets for expansion and renting space for new equipment in those cities.
"The court decision was the green light in our perspective,'' CEO and founder Chet Kanojia said in a recent interview at Aereo's sparse offices in a former engine factory in Queens. "This is an opportunity of a lifetime to build up something meaningful to change how people access TV.''
Aereo is one of several startups created to deliver traditional media over the Internet without licensing agreements. Past efforts have typically been rejected by courts as copyright violations. In Aereo's case, the judge accepted the company's legal reasoning, but with reluctance.
If the ruling stands, Aereo could cause a great deal of upheaval in the U.S. broadcast industry. It could give people a reason to drop cable or satellite subscriptions as monthly bills rise. It also might hinder broadcasters' ability to sell ads because it's not yet clear how traditional audience measures will incorporate Aereo's viewership. In addition, it could reduce the licensing fees broadcasters collect from cable and satellite companies.
Broadcasters have appealed the July ruling. At a November hearing, appellate judges expressed skepticism about the legality of Aereo's operations. In addition, the original judge's ruling was preliminary, made as part of a decision to let Aereo continue operating while the lawsuits wind their way through court. Even if courts continue to side with Aereo on the legality of its setup, broadcasters still could nitpick on the details and try to argue that the antennas don't actually operate individually