What if Aereo came to Canada?: blog

Sheetal Jaitly, director of business development and media for Pivotal Labs on the platform, and how it could contribute to the disruption of the current broadcast model in Canada.

Sheetal Jaitly is the director of business development and media for Pivotal Labs, working with media companies to develop mobile experiences that engage users and provide analytics. He is blogging for MiC, today talking about Aereo and its potential to disrupt viewership patterns if it comes to Canada.

Remember those good ol’ rabbit ears?

Decades ago, antennas were the popular television signal of choice: they picked up over-the-air (OTA) signals that would display images on your TV. When cable brought high-quality television to the masses, it gradually absorbed the popularity of OTA signals. But a few years ago, the government and broadcasters breathed new life into OTA.

The Globe and Mail wrote, “While virtually dead 10 years ago, OTA television has had a renaissance in North America over the last few years after governments in Canada and the United States legislated conventional television broadcasters switch their mode of signal transmission from 1950′s era analogue to 21st century digital.” Canada made the switch in August 2011.

This switch meant that HD channels are now being streamed, and all you need is a pair of rabbit ears to watch them. With the introduction of Aereo, you can essentially PVR this free HD content.

What is Aereo?

Aereo is a technology company that allows subscribers to view live and time-shifted streams of over-the-air television on internet-connected devices. Essentially, it created a set of small rabbit ear antennas that connects your TV to these OTA frequencies. The antennas sit in a server room in an Aereo property, and are connected to a server which records the shows for you (like a PVR would). Consumers can rent each of these antenna for a mere $8 per month.

The Current Challenge:

According to The New York Times, a few TV networks have grouped together to file a lawsuit in the supreme court against Aereo claiming that, “The Copyright Act does not tolerate business models premised on the unauthorized exploitation of the copyrighted works of others.”

However, this is a tough battle for the networks to fight – and I’m willing to put my money on the young startup. Aereo is taking OTA frequency – they’re not charging users for the content, they’re charging users for the infrastructure. While we wait to see how this US ruling goes, there’s another legal issue that’s of note – unbundling.

Senator John McCain supports a bill that will force cable providers to unbundle their TV channels. The federal government has also taken a first step to a similar bill in Canada. If it passes, no longer will we have to pay for the channels we’re not watching (finally!) .

Looking Ahead:

Should Aereo win the lawsuit (and it likely will), it’ll only be a matter of time until it comes to Canada. Something like this actually almost happened in Canada more than a decade ago; iCraveThis was a Toronto-based company that streamed OTA signals over the internet. Unfortunately, it succumbed to the legal pressure against it, as the networks viewed the site as analogous to Napster.

While the timing wasn’t right then, a slightly more refined understanding of the web means that Aereo will likely be able to break through and set a new precedent. When it makes its way north of the border, Canadians will also get to view and record OTA TV. Don’t call it a comeback, and keep your eyes on the technology – rabbit ears will likely provide some more interesting opportunities (such as implications for cordcutters, and DVR-ing OTA TV locally) over the next couple of years.