Control is a powerful thing. Observe little kids in a schoolyard or the flock of seagulls in Finding Nemo. If something suddenly appears to have value, the first thing in their mind is: MINE! MINE! MINE!
MINE! is a big deal in life. Our ancestors lived and died over the possession of food or shelter. This is a classic conflict in corporate board meetings. Wars are fought over it. People skilled at calling MINE! become CEOs or dictators or both!
Television is no different. A new Internet service called Aereo has begun a business by relaying over-the-air digital television signals to computer devices. The technology is either miraculous or really hokey. Allegedly, subscribers each rent a tiny dime-sized antenna and Aereo merely passes what it receives to your computer or handheld device.
The physics don’t add up. The wavelength of television transmissions are much longer in length than the size of an Aereo antenna. It’s like receiving pictures using a paper clip – a broken, curled up paper clip bundled into a honeycomb with hundreds of other bundled up paper clips. Unless you are really, really close to the point of transmission (the Empire State Building or Times Square) the likelihood of resolving digital TV this way is not probable. Remember TV antennas? TV antennas tend to be big. I’d love to see a white paper on this technology. Right now, I’m not buying it – not even a little. They are probably using a traditional antenna like everyone else.
Aereo also adds a powerful tool to their basic delivery: You can record your over-the-air reception for later playback. You’ll swear there is a Tivo in your iPhone. It is very convenient, useful and addicting. Missed Modern Family last night? No need for the ABC Player! You can see it over Aereo.
What is Aereo really selling here? They claim it is nothing more than a master antenna relay service. Television station owners don’t think so. Aereo is making money ultilizing expensive programming that TV networks and stations produce and sell to cable and satellite delivery services. Why should Aereo get it for free? The anger is so heated that Fox and Univision are now threatening to turn off their transmitters completely. Considering how many people still watch over-the-air TV directly, they would proably save money in this emotional move and suddenly have a good excuse for doing so.
Back when dinosaurs ruled the earth, broadcasting was considered a public service. License holders had to earn the right to use the public airwaves. As part of the bargain, broadcasters had to serve the public by providing programming that people wanted to see sometimes even without commercial content. TV programs served everybody – not just a core demographic who (according to market research) wants to see endless blood and gore and guts every evening. Cable TV did not exist. Licenses were coveted and sources of endless gold.
Cable, satellite and Internet TV programming services have sliced and diced the broadcasting pie into a hundreds of pieces. Analog dollars have turned into digital dimes or pennies or less. Popular programs dream about attracting ten percent of the viewing audience. You can’t continue to make tons of money this way. Over-the-air TV broadcasters have lost a majority of their revenue stream to ESPN, CNN and the like. In defense, they arm-wrestled cable and satellite providers to share profits under a guise called ‘retransmission fees.’ The show must go on and the money has to come from somewhere. I hear the seagulls chanting again.
Aereo has won its battles in court to continue operation without being indebited to the TV stations it relays. For the moment, the archaic concept of broadcasting being in the public domain remains. Aereo isn’t inserting their own commercials into broadcasts. They just pass TV channels to end users. How can Aereo sleep at night while constantly ripping off TV broadcasters? I know one good reason.
In June 2009, the broadcast television industry, on their own accord and design, ended analog TV. This transition also removed any practical means to see over-the-air TV using portable hand-held devices. Unless they are used in very, very strong signal areas, digital portable TVs are not practical and simply do not work. The TV industry is currently readying another incompatible digital format to make mobile TV work again. Don’t hold your breath!
Aereo closes that gap sweetly and gracefully. Broadcasters would hate to admit it, but Aereo brings portable TV back to life. No longer are wires and endless set-top boxes needed to view programs. You can get all your programming from one source. You don’t have to hunt for it on dozens of web sites. You don’t have to be connected by wires. All you need is an Internet connection. Even better, Aereo increases the broadcasters’ audience sizably. Broadcast commercials will be worth more. The cherry on the cake? You can watch portable TV live again. You remember the concept of being live? Hulu can’t do live. Aereo can.
Aereo’s forecast isn’t all cloudy and rain. Bloomberg Television has voluntarily joined Aereo for distribution. A bigger audience is a good thing, you see. Rumor has it that Aereo is negotiating with AT&T and Dish to brainstorm ideas for economic program distribution in the future. Aereo costs $80 a year. Many people pay twice that or more for just one month of cable or satellite TV.
Aereo also offers a one dollar a day option or monthly service for $8. There may be a future in these plans. It’s hard to beat!
So maybe, just maybe, Aereo is a good thing. I think it is brilliant. If the over-the-air broadcasters had foresight, they would have put together a distribution system like this from the start. Going to a new web site every time you want to change channels just isn’t practical. Aereo is live and recorded and smart and it’s a logical move forward. It provides a service that should have been inaugurated a long time ago.
Poor network television. Someone else thought up a good idea and no individual broadcaster can call it MINE! Doesn’t that infutriate you Fox and Univision? Damn! I hate when someone else beats you to the punch! No control. No revenue stream. They don’t like this at all. Maybe they will take their bat and ball, end the game and go home. Maybe they will wake up and see how Aereo will insure their audiences and make them grow. Someday, we will know. Right now, its fun to watch!