Aereo heads west -- but not too far west -- with Utah launch

The streamer of over-the-air local broadcasts picks Utah for the next leg of its expansion from New York after Boston and Atlanta, but the move west still keeps it out of a zone with shakier legal footing.

Joan E. Solsman Former Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
Expertise Streaming video, film, television and music; virtual, augmented and mixed reality; deep fakes and synthetic media; content moderation and misinformation online Credentials
  • Three Folio Eddie award wins: 2018 science & technology writing (Cartoon bunnies are hacking your brain), 2021 analysis (Deepfakes' election threat isn't what you'd think) and 2022 culture article (Apple's CODA Takes You Into an Inner World of Sign)
Joan E. Solsman
3 min read
An array of Aereo antennae
Aereo's arrays of tiny antennae let consumers watch live, local television broadcasts online. Aereo

Aereo is heading west with its next city launch, planning to go live for all of Utah in mid-August.

With a flood of other cities expected to be coming online by the end of next month, Chief Executive and founder Chet Kanojia said Monday that the Aereo is excited to be launching in "what is fast becoming known as the Silicon Slopes."

Utah will mark the first Aereo launch to cover an whole state. The reason is that the broadcast market for the metro area of Salt Lake City covers the entirety of the sparsely populated state, so launching in its capital means launching everywhere.

All consumers in Utah will be able to access the technology August 19, though those who preregister will get priority access to sign up.

The move takes Aereo about as far as it can get without overstepping into a jurisdiction where a copycat service put its legal footing on shakier ground.

Aereo's technology has sparked lawsuits from TV broadcast giants including ABC, CBS (the parent of CNET), Fox, NBC Universal, and Telemundo, which alleged last year that the service infringes their copyrights and that Aereo must pay them retransmission fees. Aereo says its practice is legit, since each user has their own dedicated antenna.

So far, the broadcaster's arguments against Aereo have failed to win the support of courts based in New York, with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit denying their request to halt Aereo's business while the case goes to court and most recently refusing to reconsider that decision again. That circuit includes New York, Connecticut, and Vermont.

But the broadcasters have had better luck against an Aereo wannabe called Aereokiller. They won the same kind of preliminary injunction against that service in Los Angeles that they they had been seeking against Aereo. While the preliminary injunction against the copycat -- which is less sophisticated technologically and legally -- doesn't necessarily mean Aereo would fail prey to the same fate, it has been keeping its first wave of growth out of any state that falls within the Ninth Circuit, where the Aereokiller injunction is up for appeal. That circuit includes California and other states on the West Coast.

Aereo has said that legal grounding is secondary to market opportunity when it sets expansion plans.

Broadcasters' protests against Aereo are spurred by more than just fees from that company itself, as the technology is changing the power balance between distributors like cable companies and programmers like those suing Aereo. With CBS and Time Warner Cable in a standoff over retransmission fees, the cable company has said that if its customers lose access to CBS because of the stalemate, it would recommend they turn to Aereo to continue watching the network's shows.

And for all the legal uncertainty, Aereo hasn't been holding back on its growth. As part of a 22-city expansion plan outlined in January, Aereo has moved from its New York launchpad to Boston and Atlanta thus far, and plans to head to Chicago on Sept. 13. The company has said that a total of 19 cities -- Salt Lake City now among them -- should precede that Chicago launch.

Aereo, which is backed by IAC Chairman Barry Diller, uses antenna/DVR technology to let consumers watch live, local over-the-air television broadcasts. It charges $8 per month for use of its cloud-based antenna/DVR technology and 20 hours of DVR storage, with the option of getting more storage for a higher price.