KELLNER: Live from New York: Aereo mobile TV

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

It was during a late Sunday evening dinner recently when I realized the value of a service, not yet generally available outside New York City, called Aereo.

My wife and I were dining — let’s just say my entree was “crunchified” — and there was some anxiety on the part of my beloved over a certain reality TV show’s outcome. Yes, we were recording the show on our TiVo, but there was still an interest in what was happening right then.

Out pops my iPhone, followed by a quick hop to www.aereo.com, whose owners allowed access for testing purposes to a contributor to The Washington Times. There, in stunningly clear video, was the reality show in question — in which a young woman named Emily encounters her future. A good time was had by all.

If you’re a New Yorker, the Aereo service is available right now: three months free and then $12 a month for access to a range of over-the-air television channels, including programs you can “record” in your account and play later. Earlier this month, a federal district court judge in New York City allowed Aereo, which is backed in part by billionaire Barry Diller, to continue to operate while lawsuits filed against it by the ABC television network and public television station WNET proceed.

Aereo works by capturing those over-the-air signals with a tiny high-definition antenna, and then streams the programs to users. It’s similar to what cable television operators do, except that, right now, Aereo doesn’t pay “retransmission fees” to the broadcasters, which the cable companies do. The service, perhaps understandably, therefore has irked the broadcasters.

The legal niceties are for the attorneys to contemplate, and maybe for a judge or two to resolve. For this review, I’ll stick with the service at hand and what it may portend for the user.

These are early days for Aereo, although Mr. Diller told the Bloomberg news service that the firm plans to expand into other markets over the coming year. So while it’s not generally available in the District and environs, it soon may be offered here.

As mentioned, the service concentrates on over-the-air channels, and that’s not just the four major broadcast networks and public television. In the New York market, one can watch a government channel, several Spanish-language channels, two home shopping channels and several other “independent” stations, including one that features “Dear My Sister Bok Hee Noona,” a Korean “television novel” with English subtitles that is a tad entrancing. (“Young woman works in a brewery and studies hard” is the Aereo guide listing, although the “brewery” seems to be more of a family winemaking business. I digress.)

Whatever one’s taste in programming — “telenovelas,” as they’re called in Spanish, game shows or Dr. Oz — if it’s on the air, you’re likely to find it on Aereo. This could be quite something for commuters: watching a favorite show or local news broadcast during your daily commute on Metro, or sneaking a peek at another NFL game while watching the Redskins at FedEx Field. The London 2012 Olympic Games open Friday evening (local time), and this would be a great way to follow many events over the next two weeks. (At lunchtime, of course, not while working.)

Missing, of course, are the cable channels that many of us enjoy. I have no way of knowing whether any of those will make it to the Aereo service anytime soon, however nice it would be to have my MTV available, too.

But this is the opening of another frontier in television distribution. How it unfolds will be interesting to observe.

Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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