Aereo's Chet Kanojia on Taking on TV's Big Broadcasters
A few years ago, I was traveling in India, and I remember standing outside in a village near Kolkata talking to some of my advisers. I thought it was the right time to create an online platform that allows consumers to have access to television online and have more choice in the marketplace. There was a growing imbalance in terms of value and price with the standard cable bundle. The logic of wanting seven or eight channels, but paying for 500, just doesn’t make any sense. Until now it’s survived because there haven’t been alternatives. I decided to create one.
I was born in India and came to the U.S. for graduate school. I pioneered how to collect viewership data from cable boxes at a very high scale, meaning millions of boxes in real time. I started Navic Networks in late 1999 and sold it to Microsoft in 2008. After you sell your company, you go through a depression. You were so engaged, so involved. You had people you worked with every day, and then they’re part of something else and nobody cares about you. When you go through that, a lot of anger builds up. One of my advisers said, “You really ought to wait two years to let that anger subside. If you start a new company in order to prove something again, you’re going to make mistakes.” It took me about a year and a half to get to that state where I was ready to chase an opportunity for its sake and nothing else.
Everybody’s conclusion was that Aereo was going to be controversial. We said, “It is what it is. It’s the price of doing business.” Barry Diller [an Aereo backer] used the words, “We’re on the side of the angels on this one.” These moments don’t happen frequently. Major broadcasters, including Fox and NBC, brought a lawsuit against us—the allegation was that Aereo technology was in some way a copyright infringement. The appellate court’s affirmation in April of the trial court’s ruling in our favor was so gratifying.
I firmly believe that television is only going to get stronger. What’s inevitable is that it will be online. People are addicted to the bandwidth and connectivity. I think Aereo is going to bring terrific benefits to broadcasters. It creates tremendous opportunities in terms of advertising—who are these consumers and how can we talk to them better? I don’t know what the actual mechanics will be when it all shakes out, but I have no doubt that the future will be bigger than what it is today. — As told to Keenan Mayo