Aereo Had 77,596 Customers At End Of 2013: Didn’t Understand The Market

Documents filed by Aereo with the U.S. Copyright Office have finally disclosed how many subscribers they had for their streaming service and the numbers show, it simply wasn’t a service that many consumers wanted. At the end of 2013, Aereo had only 77,596 total customers. About 27,000 of those were in the NYC area, 12,000 were from Boston and 10,000 from Atlanta. For all the talk by those in the industry and members of the media of how “innovative” or “disruptive” Aereo was, the reality is that the only number that matters for a subscription business is how many customers it has. That’s it. That number determines revenue, P&L and whether or not the company survives with their offering in the market. [See: Barry Diller’s OTT Service Aereo Is Dead On Arrival]

Aereo failed because they didn’t understand the market they were in and set expectations with themselves, that were completely unrealistic. They argued that the cable companies model of bundling channels was bad, yet Aereo themselves bundled all their channels into one monthly fee as well. For all the talk by Aereo of a la carte, Aereo didn’t allow you to pay only for the channels you wanted. You had to pay a monthly fee to get channels broadcast in foreign languages, even if you couldn’t watch them. In reality, Aereo was just like the cable TV model, but with less choice, poorer video quality, less device support and fewer options overall.

The CEO of Aereo said they could sign up 350,000 subscribers in the major cities, yet the company ran out of capacity and had technical issues in NYC, when they had less than 7% of that number of customers. When management and Barry Diller are out in the public saying that between 25M-30M people wanted their service, it shows just how out of touch they were with the market. Consumers want choice, they want subscription services with a deep catalog of content to choose from. They want high-quality video, with support on all devices. Aereo didn’t have any of these with limited device support, small number of channels and streaming video quality that was on average, a third of what services like MLB.TV offer today.

Aereo raised $100M, yet couldn’t even scale the business to 100,000 subs. At 100,000 subs, that would be less than one tenth, of one percent, of the cable TV subscription market. Aereo didn’t fail because of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Aereo failed from day one because it was selling a service in the market that not enough consumers wanted. Aereo should be a lesson to others that just because technology allows you to bring a service to the market that does not mean the service is something consumers want, or are willing to pay for. If there is no tangible business model behind the technology you bring to the market, then how the service works does not matter. Aereo put technology before business, and that always leads to failure, when it comes to consumer services.

  • Brady

    I think you were right that Aereo’s public attitude was misguided… but I’m not sure it was from a place of ignorance as much as a calculated exaggeration designed to draw as much attention to the company as possible. Not for advertising, necessarily – you do point out they couldn’t scale up to meet the small demand they had (then again, they may have done better scaling up if the whole business wasn’t a huge risk) – but maybe they achieved exactly what they wanted. They were able to challenge the aging, 1970’s-based copyright code in the highest courts of the U.S.

    And I think the recent news proves the old laws deserve a fresh look. Aereo receives an injunction from the Supreme Court for acting like a cable company without paying license fees. So then they offer to pay the license fees. The Copyright Office tells them they’re nothing like a cable company. When any innovation is stuck in a catch-22 that deep, I think it shows a flaw that needs to be corrected in the system.

    So was Aereo ever going to be the next cable, or the next Netflix? I agree with you: No. But, in my opinion, they worked hard on achieving a different goal about as well as they could have.

  • paul_houle

    Aereo was just an excuse to have a lawsuit, but it got a lot of funding because they talked about “mobile”. It is insane, however, to resend signals on a 4G network that you can already pick out of the air, especially when Aereo doesn’t extend the geographical footprint over which you can receive signals.

    But that is a sign of the screwed-upedness of the broadcast TV business, which the broadcasters are only taking half-seriously since they make more money when you watch cable then when you watch with an antenna. ATSC could have be designed (and can still be enhanced) to support mobile terminals, but there was no motivation, because what the broadcasters want to do is the minimum they need to keep their licenses so they can keep their network contracts, which means they can seek rent from the cable company. was a much more interesting service because it let you watch major-market TV from anywhere which meant you get four chances to catch most programming when it comes up in most time zones. If you are a news hog it is way more fun to watch local news in other cities than to see Anderson Cooper sit around and rap about the stupid antics of the Democrats and Republicans.

    But no, we can’t have that because it breaks the exclusivity contracts of the broadcasters which help them collect rent from cable companies.