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Aereo The Mystery

The Aereo saga wound down in late April to a likely conclusion, with the bankrupt start-up paying a $950,000 settlement to the broadcasters whose signals it tried to resell. The broadcast plaintiffs—and by extension, the broadcast community—shouldered the blame for Aereo’s failure in the public discourse. This was due to some extent to Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia’s expert manipulation of the conversation, a tactic also successfully employed by Aereo’s main investor, Barry Diller. But it was their own legal maneuvering that doomed Aereo from the beginning and essentially flushed away $97 million in funding.

Was it simple speculation?

That makes more sense than Aereo’s own narrative of wee start-up taking on the broadcast giants for the good of all mankind.

Aereo walked and quacked like a billionaire’s poker game, with claims about its breakthrough antenna technology being an outright bluff. Had it not been one—and Aereo actually invented dime-sized UHF antennas that worked individually even when stuffed by the hundreds into an array—the patents would have been worth far more than what they brought at the bankruptcy sale, where RPX Corp. picked them up for $225,000. A dime-sized UHF antenna easily could be incorporated into a handheld device, so why array it in the first place? Why not just spend some part of the $97 million to get it into devices, and cooperate with broadcasters to create a true, over-the-air mobile TV service? They could have charged for the app, offered a free ad-supported basic service with incremental charges for tiers of cloud DVR storage.

But no.

Aereo opened with the intent to vilify, pure and simple, but to what end, we don’t yet quite know. How the company’s high-profile, two-year unraveling effected public opinion of broadcasting, and by extension, the spectrum auction, we do not know.

One thing that can be said with some degree of confidence is that $97 million could have done quite a few things for mankind besides enrich lawyers and irritate billionaires.