Aereo CEO on the Future of TV: ‘I Welcome Competition’
New York — At CE Week 2013, Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, interviewed Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia about the future of TV and the regulatory and legal challenges faced by the over-the-air startup.
Aereo is a service aimed at cord-cutters — that is, users who decide to cancel cable TV subscriptions in lieu of pure over-the-top (OTT) and over-the-air (OTA) solutions. Aereo offers its subscribers access to OTA antenna programming — including content from the major networks such as ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox — over the web, via browser, set-top box, smartphone or tablet. Users can access that content anywhere, not just in the home — and they can manage and record programming in the cloud.
Kanojia explains that he sees IP as the ultimate way to disrupt what he calls “artificial barriers.” The barrier, in Aereo’s case, is cable companies’ hold on content.
Rather than requiring users to host their own antenna at home, Aereo has a network of millions of antennas that can serve users in New York, Boston and Atlanta. Kanojia says he expects Aereo to be in 18 or 19 cities by August. Aereo will officially be coming to Chicago on Sept. 13, 2013.
This way, Aereo avoids paying standard re-transmission fees to the networks and local stations. That makes the networks angry — so angry that all of the major networks have filed lawsuits against the company. To date, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has sided with Aereo and refused to shut the service down during its legal battle.
In addition to filing federal lawsuits, broadcast networks have even threatened to pull content from free OTA and go subscription-only.
Kanojia doesn’t think these threats will amount to much. “I think it’s posturing,” Kanojia told Shapiro.
A more interesting reaction to Aereo comes from cable companies themselves, some of which have toyed with the idea of offering Aereo-like services to subscribers.
“I welcome competition,” Kanojia said. “This is free to air broadcasts. We’re not going after ESPN,” he added. “There is no dispute that consumers have the right to this content.”
“We’re a technology company,” Kanojia said, when asked about plans to potentially integrate Netflix or other content into its service. “We’re almost religious about the idea that tech companies do tech and content companies do content.”
That this is a slight change from what Kanojia told Mashable in August 2012. Last year, Kanojia seemed open at least to the idea of bundling with other content. Citing the financial requirements for creating original content, Kanojia says the company is more focused on being the technology solution and letting others focus on what works.
Still, the open question for Kanojia is whether TV will transform into apps — an Aereo app, a Netflix app, an HBO Go app — or if it will continue to exist as distinct channels.
Can Aereo Take Off?
In response to an audience question about Aereo’s plans to gain more traction with users, Kanojia admitted that the service needs to be simpler and faster for users to use.
He also said that startups have a choice between using money to advertise their service or investing that money in the service and hoping users discover it organically. “The temptation to do full-court advertising is immense,” Kanojia said.
Legal issues aside, bringing in users will be Aereo’s biggest hurdle. The idea behind Aereo is good; its product is quality. The open question is whether the substance of that content is attractive enough to the next generation of cord-cutters.
What do you think of Aereo? Let us know in the comments.
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