Promise and peril in TV "roaming"

By Doug Mohney November 08, 2013

The success of Aereo and Slingbox should be a wakeup call to the broadcast and cable industries. People are willing to pay money for awkward solutions to watch television outside of their own local viewing area.  Why can't broadcasts and broadband providers come to a solution to cut past the kludges and put some more money into their pockets?

Slingbox was the first hardware solution to address the problem of "My favorite TV broadcast is at home, but I'm on the road and I want to see is because it is the second decade of the twenty-first century."   A Slingbox  is a device that enables control and watching of the home TV over the Internet, enabling a tech-savvy traveler the ability to catch the local news or live sporting events.  It is able to relay any home A/V source, including over-the-air TV, satellite, and cable set-top boxes.

Aereo takes the Slingbox concept and turns it into a cloud service, allowing subscribers within a specific geographic "viewing area" to access a TV broadcast via broadband.  The advantage to Aereo is it allows for clear reception of local over-the-air TV signals over a broadband connection without having to muck with TV antennas or be at the edge of the broadcast footprint.

Part of Aereo's pitch is that you don't have to pay for cable TV service to get local over-the-air viewing over broadband.  Instead, you pay $8 a month, plus whatever your broadband connection costs.

Ignoring the economics comparisons and tradeoffs of an $8 per month "broadcast only" package compared to basic cable costs and desires a carte pricing of TV channels -- another concept content and cable find abhorrent -- it is clear there is a market for "Watch any over-the-air TV from anywhere" services.  If Aereo is charging only $8 a month for a service that is extremely capital intensive with antennas and servers and broadband, surely local broadcasters could figure out an economic and secure way to offer a live subscription service in combination with on-demand replay of unique local programming, such as news shows.

Life gets trickier when we start talking about the big money. National sports franchises like MLB, NBA, and NFL have their own vision and plans on broadcast packages.   All access pass packages might lose their luster (and profits) if out-of-region fans could get their favorite team sports fix by tapping into the local station broadcast --a state of affairs already happening with Slingbox and Aereo.

Still, there are enough TV "roamers" out there willing to pay for broadband viewing access today.  Local broadcasters should be able to offer two packages: Basic and full rights.  Basic broadcasting would include all locally generated content and most shows while the (slightly higher priced) full rights package would provide 24 x7 access without electronic "blackouts" of college and major league sports games.

Down the road, ultimate local TV viewing junkies could get an "All Access US package" with the ability to sample programming from around the country -- if broadcasters and distributors can stop worrying about being "ripped off" and focus more on how to bring in more dollars through wider distribution.



Edited by Cassandra Tucker

Contributing Editor

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