My Adventures with Aereo and Cutting the Cable Cord

Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor — 

A few weeks ago, Xconomy’s Wade Roush wrote a blistering piece suggesting that all of us old-school suckers still paying $80-plus per month for cable were making it possible for him to live the dream.

“After all, your money goes straight to the studios and networks that produce and distribute all the expensive first-run programming that I’m perfectly happy to watch later at a discount,” he wrote. “So in effect, you’re subsidizing my own footloose, freeloading, cord-cutting TV habits.”

Oof. A few of us on the company-wide e-mail chain about the piece expressed our sheepishness at still being so behind the times.

Sufficiently shamed, I seriously began to wonder if I could pull off the all-digital switch. I am old now, so I’ve become quite the TV aficionado. I watch almost everything HBO and Showtime produce, as well as a lot of AMC and FX. I do have a few guilty, low-brow pleasures—Dr. Drew’s various rehab shows, “Family Guy”, “Catfish”—but in general, I have failed to connect with most network television offerings, unless they’re showing a sporting event I’m interested in.

But I was still willing to give Aereo a chance when it launched in nine counties—Lapeer, Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, Sanilac, Saint Clair, Washtenaw, and Wayne—in metro Detroit last month. Aereo, which is based in New York, has also recently expanded to Boston, Atlanta, Miami, Salt Lake City, Houston, and Dallas.

What Aereo offers is a cloud-based antenna/DVR technology that live-streams local broadcast channels to your laptop, tablet, or smartphone. In Detroit, that includes the local Fox, NBC, ABC, and PBS affiliates and a handful of special interest channels, such as Qubo, BounceTV, and MOVIES! Users can also add the Bloomberg news channel.

Aereo offers two different memberships: One for $8 per month, which includes unlimited viewing and 20 hours of cloud DVR storage, and one for $12 per month, which includes 60 hours of DVR storage. The first month is free. So far, the company says the response in Detroit has been strong.

Aereo gave me a temporary demo account to review the service, so I fired that bad boy up last week at 9 a.m. and scrolled down the list of channels. Streaming were local network morning shows, “Live! With Kelly and Michael,” “Judge Mathis,” a gaggle of old movies, and a few religious shows like “The 700 Club” and T.D. Jakes’ talk show.

Then, I finally hit on something I wanted to watch: “Sesame Street”! Except … where were all the funky clothes, groovy dance numbers, and afros? It wasn’t the “Sesame Street” I grew up on, so I could only take so much. I made a note to myself to try Aereo again at night.

As luck would have it, that evening, my cable box blew, rendering my television much less useful. Comcast said it wouldn’t be able to send anyone to fix it for two whole days. And right as “American Horror Story: Coven” was about to come on! Crap. I tried Aereo on the off chance it would be broadcasting the FX network. No dice.

Next, I tried to find that night’s new episode on FX’s website. All they had were a few extended trailers. I tried Xfinity Live, a service I get on my laptop through my Comcast subscription, but the new episode wasn’t on offer. Besides, all Xfinity Live does is route you back to FX’s American Horror Story homepage.

Next, I opened up iTunes. First, I had to wait five minutes as a new version of the software downloaded. Then, I checked the menu and couldn’t find that night’s episode. Getting desperate, I Googled “watch American Horror Story live,” which directed me to Hulu. “Full episodes are not available,” Hulu informed me. I hit the back button a few times until I ended up with a link to Amazon Instant Video. In my haste, I read over the title and synopsis too quickly before spending $1.99 on it, only to discover it was last week’s episode. Arrrgh!

At that point, I threw in the towel on “American Horror Story” and went back to Aereo. I watched a live hockey game, but my heart wasn’t in it.

So, what did my adventures in cutting the cable cord teach me? That you’ll pry my Comcast subscription from my cold, dead hands. I’m too impatient to wait for shows to make it online. I want full access to OnDemand, and I want it now.

Virginia Lam, head of Aereo’s marketing team, says I might not be the target customer anyway. “If you like having 500 different channels, that might not work for you,” she points out. “But if you’re used to cobbling your TV viewing together from various online sources, Aereo provides that live pulse of news, weather, and sports.”

If I was into network TV, Aereo would be just the ticket—it’s easy to navigate and affordable. But, unfortunately, I’m a cable snob. And that’s my stupid problem. So I suppose I’ll continue subsidizing Wade’s viewing pleasure, at least until they find a way to broadcast pay TV live on the Internet just as easily and cheaply as Aereo and Hulu.

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5 responses to “My Adventures with Aereo and Cutting the Cable Cord”

  1. analyzethis says:

    Verizon is apparently headed into this direction and Cox will roll out Flare though maybe in just their own area. It will only take one successful disruptive service to change everything.

  2. Steve Theim says:

    You could have just ran a utorrent client and downloaded it 30 minutes after it was on tv. without commercials to boot.