NimbleTV Trying to Make Good on Potential for Streaming Television

The technology seems ready, so why aren’t we all streaming TV on portable devices?

This idea has been long gestating, but thus far has only seen trickles of real-world use. “TV everywhere as a concept has never really happened,” says Anand Subramanian.

He believes his company, NimbleTV in New York, can make streaming television on any device more of a possibility for the masses.

NimbleTV lets cable subscribers watch up to 140 channels on any device with a Web browser that is connected to the cloud. That includes smartphones, tablets, desktop computers, and televisions equipped with Roku devices or Apple TV’s AirPlay. NimbleTV is essentially free; cable subscribers already pay their providers for access to the channels. “We allow people to take their subscription television service wherever they go,” says Subramanian, the startup’s CEO.

He says his company makes money by up-selling cable customers on its cloud-based DVR service for fees that start at about $5 per month.

NimbleTV initially was only available to cable customers of certain providers in New York. In August, the service expanded to Chicago. The company currently works with Cablevision, Time Warner, Verizon’s FiOS, and RCN in New York. In Chicago, the service is available to subscribers of AT&T U-Verse, RCN, and Xfinity.

People without cable who want to use NimbleTV can access 10 free channels that include a mix of international news and general entertainment. If they want to see more, NimbleTV can get them signed up with participating cable service providers.

Subramanian says in addition to accessing NimbleTV through Web browsers, Roku, and Apple TV, the company is also building apps for Blu-ray players, Xbox consoles, and smart TVs.

Television is a noisy sector, though, with different technology competing to augment this medium. In addition to Apple TV and Roku, there is also Google Chromecast feeding content to televisions. Even Subramanian describes NimbleTV as “an evolutionary step” that combines Slingbox and a Tivo.

Teaching TV to do new tricks is also not without its risks. New York-based Aereo tried to take industry incumbents head-on by selling a service that let people connect mobile devices to miniature antennae to watch live broadcast TV. Broadcasters took umbrage with Aereo over copyright infringement—and not paying to carry their signals while charging customers for the service. So the networks teamed up to shut down the upstart. Their legal fight made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court this summer, where the justices deemed that Aereo had violated copyright law. Aereo suspended service days later—though the company has looked for other ways to get back in business.

NimbleTV is not trying to disrupt broadcasters, Subramanian says, as there is always an underlying cable service that users subscribe to. The company wants to expand into 15 to 20 cities as quickly as possible, he says, by gauging demand.

Prior to founding NimbleTV in 2012, Subramanian was the founder of ContextWeb, a New York-based digital media services firm. ContextWeb merged in 2011 with Datran Media in New York, becoming PulsePoint.

After his ContextWeb exit, Subramanian was looking for a new venture and thought the TV industry was primed for change. NimbleTV thus far has raised $6.2 million from investors that include Tribune Strategic Investments, Greycroft Partners, and Tribeca Venture Partners.

Subramanian says his company is not trying to go after the so-called second screen market, which he is a bit skeptical of. The second screen concept has been centered on a belief that viewers will use a smartphone or tablet while watching a show on TV and interact with related content on their device. “We’re not a second screen companion app; we are ‘the’ app,” says Subramanian.

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