Attention, television execs: NimbleTV, another startup streaming live and recorded TV to devices over the Internet, is now open for business.
But NimbleTV, whose backers include Tribune Co., claims its service reinforces the industry's business models -- instead of undercutting them. The company, launching initially in the New York area, requires users to have a pay-TV subscription to be able to access broadcast or cable networks online.
The approach differs from the path taken by another New York-based startup, Aereo -- which is being sued by broadcasters for copyright infringement in a case they have appealed to the Supreme Court. Aereo transmits broadcast TV signals to users, arguing that it's just enabling access to the free, over-the-air signals consumers are entitled to.
By basing its service on paid TV subscriptions, NimbleTV hopes to avoid a similar legal target. Subramanian said NimbleTV's service falls unambiguously under fair use, with the company facilitating access to content consumers have already paid for. Also unlike Aereo, NimbleTV will allow access to TV from anywhere in the world (Aereo restricts access to the local broadcast market for legal reasons).
"To say that someone can't hire a company to help them do something -- that would be a big stretch," he said.
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Indeed, NimbleTV's service provides exactly the same kind of access to live TV and DVR recordings that Dish Network's Slingbox-enabled Hopper does. Broadcasters have filed legal challenges to the Hopper's place-shifting and ad-skipping functions, but so far Dish has prevailed in court.
NimbleTV doesn't have any business arrangements with cable, satellite or telco TV operators. Subramanian said it doesn't need permission, but, he added, "We can't speculate how the operators will react."
The company is offering two subscription plans to residents with an address in the New York market: an add-on service for those with an existing cable subscription that offers 24 local broadcast channels, starting at $3.99 monthly; and a "concierge" option under which NimbleTV will provision a pay-TV plan and operate the necessary DVR remotely on behalf of a customer, with up to 130 channels beginning at $29.98 per month. The channel lineup of NimbleTV's full-service package indicates the TV provider it's using is Dish Network.
For existing cable customers, NimbleTV claims it checks to make sure a user has a valid TV subscription in the New York market through the operators' online portals. The startup says it can verify accounts of subscribers with Time Warner Cable, Cablevision, Verizon FiOS and RCN service.
Initially, NimbleTV is limiting the add-on product to the 24 local broadcast channels in New York "to see what the market reaction is for a product like this" and to be ensured the same channel lineup is available across all operators, Subramanian said. The startup eventually intends to stream cable programming, he said.
It's not clear how disruptive NimbleTV will prove to be. In the long term, the service really may be only one more reason pushing TV networks and pay-TV operators to offer a more complete suite of online-streaming options. There's far less reason to pay for a separate TV Everywhere service if it's already available from your provider.
But for now, Subramanian says there's sizable demand for his company's service. NimbleTV launched a beta test of its service in October 2012, then opened a wider paid beta rollout this July, with nearly 80,000 people signing up to test it out.
Currently, NimbleTV works on Apple iOS devices and Apple TV, Roku boxes, certain Internet-enabled TVs and personal computers. The company offers cloud-based DVR storage plans ranging from 20 to 90 hours per month, with the option of buying additional recording space.
NimbleTV, founded in January 2011, has raised about $6 million in funding from Tribune, Greycroft Partners, Tribeca Venture Partners and angel investors. The company, which has 17 employees, is based in midtown Manhattan with a data-center facility in Brooklyn.
The startup also is planning to launch a similar service in India in early 2014, followed by Russia and Germany. "The aim of the company is to have a platform that can operate globally," Subramanian said.