To its creators and backers, Aereo — an Internet-connected antenna the size of a penny — is an innovative way to spread the reach of television programs online. To the broadcast networks, it's simply stealing. The Supreme Court will decide who's right.
Now available in about a dozen U.S. cities, mostly on the East Coast, Aereo allows a user, for a minimum of $8 a month, to watch over-the-air TV programs on a smartphone, tablet or computer. Customers can watch their selections live, with the ability to pause the streaming content, or record them for viewing later.
Chet Kanojia, Aereo's CEO, says the system mimics regular home equipment, including a television antenna and a device for recording programming.
"We've consolidated those two technologies and located them remotely, so consumers can enjoy broadcast TV, as they have for a very long time, except they can do it for a very low cost and on any device that they choose," he says.
Shortly after the service was launched last year in New York City, the nation's major broadcast networks filed a lawsuit claiming that Aereo illegally retransmits their programs without paying for them. The court will hear oral arguments Tuesday.
The networks say Aereo is simply taking signals from over-the-air TV and selling them to people for a profit.
"We have a technical legal term for that: It's called theft," said Neal Katyal, a Washington lawyer representing the broadcasters.