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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Nashuan will be among first area customers for Aereo, streaming live TV

NASHUA – On Wednesday, Thomas O’Toole will be part of the newest change coming to the staid activity of TV watching, as he joins the first wave of New Hampshire customers for a controversial streaming-broadcast service called Aereo.

At least, he thinks he will. ...

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NASHUA – On Wednesday, Thomas O’Toole will be part of the newest change coming to the staid activity of TV watching, as he joins the first wave of New Hampshire customers for a controversial streaming-broadcast service called Aereo.

At least, he thinks he will.

“I haven’t heard from them since I signed up, actually,” the Nashua software engineer said Monday. “I assume it’s set.”

Aereo is a New York startup moving in the Boston region, including southern New Hampshire, this week. It snags over-the-air broadcasts on tiny antennas and streams them online as digital files, making them available for live or delayed viewing on smartphones, tablets, web browsers, or Internet devices that can be attached to TVs.

It is the target of lawsuits from broadcasters who say it is stealing their signals, some of whom have gone so far as to say that if Aereo succeeds they will abandon free on air broadcasts and move to cable.

On Wednesday, May 15, it will offer service to people in the region who signed up in advance. On May 30, it will offer service to anybody. The basic cost is $8 per month, which includes 20 hours of digital video recorder storage.

Aereo launched in Feb. 2012 in New York City. Boston is its first expansion, but it plans to be in more than 20 cities around the U.S. by the end of the year. Its technology uses huge banks of tiny TV antennas, each the size of a quarter, that can be individually controlled by customers.

Why is O’Toole willing to pay to see TV he can get free over the air?

For the streaming and the storage, or as O’Toole puts it, “Watching it anywhere you want to, on any device you want to.”

He pointed to the day of the Boston Marathon bombing as an example of how difficult this currently is.

Trying to keep up with breaking news, he said, “I fired up my phone, and was trying to stream WCVB over the phone. It kind of worked; as live TV on my phone it was semi-successful. I wouldn’t have had nearly the same troubles if I was to able to fire up an app and watch via Aereo,” he said.

It is possible to watch some broadcast television through apps on smart devices using other services, including one launched Monday by ABC, the network for WCVB-TV, but they require contracts with cable companies – a deal-breaker for O’Toole.

“I cancelled my Comcast subscription because I was only watching 3 or 4 channels at best,” said O’Toole, a 40-year-old web developer.

“This is not really saving me money,” he said. “I cut it ... almost as a political statement: I want a la carte. I don’t want to pay $100 a month for the very little that I view.”

O’Toole, who has lived in Nashua for 15 years, is still a Comcast customer, however. Like many people, his home broadband connection comes through his cable modem, part of the Xfinity service; he just doesn’t get any programming through it.

O’Toole said he isn’t a typical TV viewer – “I don’t watch ‘American Idol’ or most of what’s on TV” – but one of the issues facing broadcasters is that the days of a typical TV viewer are disappearing.

Network TV audiences are shrinking, the number of cable channels is growing, and non-traditional sources like Netflix and Amazon are starting to create new programs. This increasing competition has undercut the business models of traditional broadcasters and cable firms, just as the Internet’s changes have undercut the business models of news organizations, including The Telegraph, and of the music and publishing industries.

O’Toole said he is now a “streaming only” customer, watching TV via Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime. Aereo will give him similar access to local channels; at home, he’ll probably watch them via his Roku, which connects the Internet to TV sets.

The whole concept of a network is largely irrelevant to him, he says; he picks shows, not networks: “If there’s a good show on, you’re going to hear about it from the watercooler, Facebook.”

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashua
telegraph.com. Follow Brooks on Twitter (@Telegraph_DaveB).