NOTE: As of 06/28/14, Aereo has suspended operations in the aftermath of a U.S. Supreme Court Ruling declaring Aereo as being in violation of U.S. Copyright Laws. Refer to Aereo's Official Announcement and the updates posted at the bottom of this article for more details. The following overview of the Aereo TV Streaming Service is being preserved for historical reference.
There are a lot of options available for accessing TV programs. Cable and satellite are the most common ways, followed by using an indoor or outdoor antenna (referred to as OTA or Over-the-Air). However, the method that is growing by leaps and bounds is watching TV programs by streaming them from the internet, either on a PC, phone, tablet, internet-enabled TV or Blu-ray Disc player. However, the downside of watching TV over the internet is that, except for rare instances, you may have to wait days, weeks, or months before your favorite program is available through your favorite internet streaming service.
In an effort to provide consumers with the convenience of watching OTA broadcast TV online, a new service, Aereo, has appeared on the scene. As of the date this article was first posted (April 2013), Aereo was only available in the New York City Metropolitan Area. However, as of May 15th 2013, it has begun operations in Boston, and will be accessible in Atlanta beginning on June 24th 2013. The are immediate plans to expand to at least 20 more cities for all cities currently, or expected to become available as the service roll-out continues).
How Aereo Works
Aereo employs a new type of antenna technology that enables the manufacturing of incredibly small antennas (we are talking not much larger than a fingertip) that are very sensitive. Hundreds or thousands of these small antennas can then be combined into an array and placed inside of central data center, along with supporting internet connectivity and DVR storage.
Aereo can then stream any local television signals it receives via its antenna array(s), over the internet, to any number of subscribers that have the Aereo software installed on compatible PCs, portable devices, and media streamers.
As an added bonus, all the signals are recorded, which enables subscribers to also view any program at a later, more convenient time of their choosing, without having to own their own DVR.
Of course, depending on the wired (Ethernet, MHL) and wireless (Wifi, Bluetooth, Miracast) connectivity options available between your internet devices and your TV and home theater system, your programing can be viewed on many TVs or other compatible video display device.
It is important to point out that Aereo only provides access to OTA broadcast TV channels and Bloomberg Television. It does not provide access to cable-only channels, or additional internet streaming services that provide archives of some past and recent broadcast or cable TV shows, such as Netflix and HuluPlus.
On the surface, Aereo sounds like one of those "why didn't I think of that" practical ideas that provides an convenient way to bring over-the-air local TV (including network affiliated programming), in high definition, to consumers on platforms not usually accessible for live TV reception.
However, this new service has generated some heated objections from several TV broadcast networks, most notably FOX and CBS. In fact, just as in the CES Best of Show Award controversy, CBS is not allowing its tech news arm, CNET, to review Aereo.
At the crux of their objections is that unlike cable and satellite services, Aereo does not pay any re-transmission fees to broadcasters, even though it charges a subscription fee to its users, similar to a cable, satellite, or streaming service, and also provides additional DVR-type services, which adds further value to the service that the broadcasters are not getting a share of.
To counter the broadcasters, Aereo claims that its subscribers are receiving unscrambled network programing over-the-air via an antenna, just like any consumer does when they have an antenna connected directly to a TV, but in this case, Aereo has centralized the antenna reception locations and merely supplies the received signal to their subscribers.
According to Aereo, the number of antennas equals the number of subscribers, which means that, "technically", each subscriber has their own antenna. In other words: What is the difference if the TV viewer has his/her TV antenna in the house or located in a more advantageous location? That is one argument that is being used to counter the objections by the networks and local broadcasters.
As a result of this new expansion of the definition of OTA TV reception, as more subscribers choose to receive and watch TV programming using the Aereo system (either live or via the DVR options), TV stations (both network and independents) are claiming that they would lose retransmission fee bargaining power with cable and satellite providers, thus decreasing one their legally-entitled revenue sources.
So far, Aereo has prevailed in court against the broadcast networks and its allies, but that could change as it rolls out nationally and more legal challenges are filed. For an additional perspective on Aereo, and the controversy surrounding it, read or listen to a report from NPR. Stay tuned for more information on Aereo as it becomes available.
The Dyle TV Alternative
As a counter technology attack against the expansion of Aereo, CBS and other broadcasters are endorsing Dyle TV which makes individual wireless TV reception-tuner dongles that can be plugged into compatible mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets.
The signals are received directly from TV broadcast towers, so it does not require internet connectivity to use (except for an initial app download for some portable devices) or subscription to a service (at least through 2013), such as Aereo. It is like putting up your own antenna at home, but using a form factor more physically suited for mobile devices.
However, although Dyle TV provides live over-the-air TV reception and viewing, it does not provide DVR functionality. Also, either you have to incur the cost of outfitting all your devices with their own antenna/tuner dongle or move the dongle to each device that you want to use.
More On Aereo:
7/11/14: Aereo May Resurrect as Cable Service