Over-the-Top Over-the-Air

Would you pay for a service that lets you watch over-the-air broadcasts on your tablet or smartphone? That’s what a company called Aereo (formerly known as “Bamboom“) plans to launch just such a service for New York City residents starting next month.

The company is building a system of thousands of tiny television antennas; each one is the size of a dime. These capture free broadcast television signals over the air, which are then encoded and made available as streaming data sent over the Internet. These arrays are positioned so that they get excellent reception, which is not a trivial matter in the concrete canyons of New York. Each subscriber is assigned a specific antenna, so all the service is doing is providing a feed from the antenna that you rent. The intent is that the service is not acting as a shared antenna like a cable company, which would be subject to retransmission fees. Instead, each subscriber gets their own dedicated antenna. The company also has massive amounts of data storage, so that they can offer DVR service as well; this means that subscribers can record the shows that they want to watch, and then view them later.

All the control and viewing is done over the Internet, and you can get HD quality programming. The service is starting with 20 channels. The system can also be accessed using a personal computer, an Apple TV, or a Roku network media player. The system comes with a 30-day free trial and a $12 per month membership fee. You must be a New York City resident to sign up.

If this system works, it could present an attractive and low-cost alternative to basic cable or satellite services in the Big Apple. And if it can make it there, it could probably make it anywhere (as the song goes), especially in other major urban markets.