Time Warner is already suggesting that subscribers affected by the blackout try out Aereo, the $8 a month online service that lets people stream over-the-air TV to iPhones, iPads and other devices. Aereo also allows people to save shows for future viewing. While people can't get Showtime through Aereo, they can use the service to stream sports games as well as shows like “Big Brother,” “Under the Dome,” and “Criminal Minds.”
Not all Time Warner subscribers can access Aereo, but those in the New York City area can. And those in Dallas will be able to as well, starting in late September. (Since launching in New York last year, the Barry Diller-backed Aereo has expanded to Boston and Atlanta, and has announced plans to roll out in more than a dozen other areas.)
Of course, anyone who purchases antennas can already watch CBS programs, without paying for Aereo. But Aereo offers subscribers something else: it makes shows portable. That's a big benefit for people who want to watch live sports without feeling trapped in their living rooms.
Given that Aereo is often hailed as a cord-cutting service, Time Warner's suggestion that viewers give Aereo a try seems counterintuitive. After all, if people decide that they like Aereo -- and don't also want cable-only channels -- they might well decide to cancel their cable video subscriptions.
In any event, regardless of whether Aereo is a threat to cable companies, TV broadcasters clearly believe the startup poses problems: CBS is among the group of broadcasters embroiled in litigation with Aereo in New York.
CBS (and the other TV companies) asked the federal court in New York to order Aereo to stop retransmitting programs without licenses. So far, Aereo is winning that battle, at least in New York, where a trial judge and appellate court refused to shutter the company.
But Aereo -- and FilmOn TV (formerly called Aereokiller), a rival that uses identical technology -- are facing lawsuits in other parts of the country. The outcome of those cases remains uncertain, but FilmOn TV has lost a preliminary battle in California, where a federal judge ruled that its system infringed the TV networks' copyrights. FilmOn TV has appealed to the 9th Circuit, which is considering the matter.
In the most recent courtroom development, Hearst sued Aereo in Boston this summer. Hearst, which owns the ABC affiliate WCVB in Boston, says that Aereo shouldn't be allowed to operate in Massachusetts.
Last week, Aereo fired back, arguing that its system is legal due to its technology, which relies on the same antennas that consumers are allowed to install themselves. Aereo says in its court papers that Hearst's request for an injunction is “decidedly against the public interest, consumer convenience and options, and access to broadcast network television."