It is about the size of a dime and light as a feather.
But in the eyes of the broadcast television industry, an Aereo antenna might as well be a hundred feet tall and weigh a thousand pounds. The big networks claim it is illegal and could destroy everything they hold dear.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments from both sides, and the results could have major implications for the future of television.
Launched in 2012 by Chaitanya "Chet" Kanojia, an Indian-born engineer with 14 patents, Aereo enables consumers to stream and record on the Internet the over-the-air signals of local broadcasters via remotely stored antennas. They can then watch on their televisions, tablets, phones or computers.
Subscribers pay $8 to $12 a month for Aereo, and that includes a cloud-based digital video recorder that can hold up to 60 hours of content. Aereo is currently available in 11 cities including New York, Boston, Detroit and Dallas.
Broadcasters — led by CBS and Fox, which have been most vocal in their attacks on Aereo — argue that the subscription service violates copyright law. Other broadcasters taking on Aereo include NBC, ABC, Spanish-language broadcaster Univision, PBS and Tribune, parent of the Los Angeles Times.
The fear is that Aereo and similar services have the potential to undermine key revenue streams for broadcasters and hinder their ability to pay for expensive programming such as National Football League games. Pay-TV distributors shell out billions annually to carry local TV stations.
Those so-called retransmission consent fees have become crucial for broadcasters since increased competition for eyeballs from cable channels and digital services such as Netflix have eaten away at their ratings and shrunk their piece of the advertising pie.
Kanojia came up with the idea for Aereo when he was chief executive of Navic Networks, a data firm that he later sold to Microsoft Corp. that collected viewing patterns from cable boxes in real time. Looking at the numbers, he was struck by what he saw.
"It was pretty clear to me that nobody cares about all these channels. Most watch seven or eight channels, and half of them tended to be broadcast," Kanojia said in an interview.
So he came up with a way to distribute local TV signals to consumers who didn't want to spend money on a full package of pay channels.
"Decades of monopoly practices has created a bad sentiment in the consumer's mind," Kanojia said.
Aereo's backers include former Fox and ABC executive Barry Diller, whose IAC/InterActive Corp. owns more than 10% of Aereo's stock. Gordon Crawford, the well-regarded former Capital Research and Management executive who oversaw the firm's entertainment and media investments for decades, is also an Aereo investor.
Kanojia declines to say how many subscribers Aereo has. Diller has said he thinks the service could eventually have 20 million to 30 million subscribers.
But first it will have to survive the case of American Broadcasting Cos. Inc. vs. Aereo Inc.
If Aereo loses, "it may mean the end of our company," Kanojia said.
That would be a perfectly fine outcome as far as broadcasters are concerned.
"We believe that Aereo's business model, and similar offerings that operate on the same principle, are built on stealing the creative content of others," CBS said this year.