New York City-based startup Aereo’s antennas and mobile interface enable its subscribers to watch major television channels live on their mobile devices.

Aereo: Streaming live TV to mobile devices via mini-antennas

An increasing number of people nowadays watch television on the Internet. Leading telecoms equipment manufacturer Ericsson estimates that the global connected TV market will reach 76 million subscribers in 2013, bringing in revenues of $32 billion, growing to 105 million subscribers – worth $45 billion in revenues – by 2015. In addition, mobile video consumption keeps increasing, especially on tablets. And more and more consumers are now using what are known as phablets, i.e. devices that come somewhere between smartphones and tablets. These hybrid devices have larger screens than traditional smartphones, and are especially popular for video viewing and mobile gaming. With its mini-antennas, New York based startup Aereo is offering a route to low-cost live TV viewing on a mobile device, thus muscling in on the monopoly of the traditional TV channels.

Live TV on mobile

Aereo puts its mini-antennas in data centers, where they pick up the frequencies of local over-the-air television channels – including NBC, Fox and ABC – live. They then stream this content to its subscribers’ mobile devices via the Internet. Users can also record live programs and watch them later using a DVR. At the moment the service is only available in the metropolitan New York area, although the company recently announced that it hoped to extend its reach to around 22 cities across the United States. Aereo offers a choice of several membership plans. The service is entirely free of charge for only 1 hour of live TV streaming per day. Alternatively, $12 a month gives limited access to the service, plus the option of recording programs. One clear advantage of the Aereo solution is that it costs less than standard pay-TV plans. A one-year plan with Aereo will cost a maximum of $80, whereas the price of a subscription to cable TV in NYC works out at around $60 a month. The second major plus is of course that, as the broadcasts are streamed to your mobile device, you can watch TV anywhere you happen to be, within the area.

Reshaping the future of TV?

Up to now, apart from subscribing to cable television, there were two ways of watching United States TV programs online: you could sign up to services such as Hulu, which streams TV programs and films after the live TV broadcast; or go to the TV channels’ own websites, which have been providing online access to their subscribers, as a part of their "TV Everywhere" strategies. Despite attempts to face up to the competition from web startups, US cable channels have found it difficult to hold on to their subscribers, who have been showing a preference for online services with their lower-commitment formulas. Now, with its mini-antennas, Aereo is threatening the monopoly of the major media groups when it comes to broadcasting their own programs. While Aereo’s Internet TV-streaming offer is currently only open to New York City residents, it may soon be extended across the country, given that the startup has just won a first victory in its appeals-court battle against TV majors who had challenged its right to re-diffuse programs in this way. So far, the court has ruled that Aereo can keep operating until the end of the trial.