Cutting the Cable: Receive Local TV Stations on the Internet

One of my ongoing projects is reducing my cable TV bill.  I receive my internet and television service from my cable provider, and pay extra for high-definition channels but otherwise do not receive subscription channels like HBO, Showtime or sports. For this service, I pay about $140 a month but really only watch a couple of shows a week (an occasional Daily Show and Colbert Report); my wife sometimes catches a random movie on the Hallmark Channel.  A couple of times a year, I might watch the last quarter of a big game like the Superbowl.  Our light viewing hardly seems worth the monthly cost.

Over the air (OTA) broadcast channels is a roadblock that prevents us from cutting the cable.  I live in an area with historically poor reception and hesitate to spend money on a big roof antenna without knowing for sure if it would work, however local stations aren’t available on on-line services like Hulu+ (to which we subscribe).  Local stations hold the exclusive rights to distribute shows locally, and have found it more lucrative to have cable companies pay them to carry shows over cable than to provide direct service to the public, other than via broadcast to your antenna.

A new company called Aereo aims to address this by offering broadcast channels via your internet connection.  The secret is that they say they’ve developed a dedicated, thumbtack-sized antenna.  When you sign up for the service, they install this new antenna at their location and set up for you, along with a TiVo-like, cloud-based digital video recorder (DVR) service.  You can watch whatever local stations you want on your internet-enabled device of choice.

The company relies heavily on a legal decision, where Cablevision was allowed to provide their customers with a remote, dedicated DVR to record what they wanted without special equipment or hardware.  The big media companies who were suing Cablevision lost, and the US Supreme Courtdeclined to hear their appeal.

The service is projected to cost $12 a month and launch in New York City on March 14.  Broadcast and cable companies have not responded to the announcement.  It will be fascinating to see how this plays out over the coming months.

Photo: Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) Nick J Webb