DON’T CALL CHET KANOJIA A DISRUPTER. First, it’s hackneyed. “You go around in [Silicon] Valley, every punk is running around saying, you know, ‘Disrupt, disrupt, disrupt,’ ” he says. “It’s like, ‘Dude, you have no idea what you’re talking about.’ ”
Kanojia, a Newton entrepreneur who’s trying to lead a TV revolution, does know what he’s talking about. Which brings us to his second objection. Disruption, he says, is too often conflated with destruction, which is not his goal. He’s not out to destroy TV networks or the cable industry, he insists. Just to make things better for viewers. “Something’s gotta give,” he says, citing continued increases in cable rates. “Otherwise you end up in a system where it’s another mortgage payment.”
Indeed, doesn’t the cable bill loom large in those late-night, kids-in-bed budget discussions at the kitchen table? You shell out a bundle, and the bundle only grows — the average bill for a pay TV subscription alone is on track to reach $123 a month next year and $200 by 2020, according to a 2012 projection from market research firm NPD Group. And yet you ask yourself: What am I paying for? How many of those channels do I actually watch?
This frustration — and the desire to break free — is something Kanojia had known both as a consumer and as a technologist who had done work for the cable industry. So a little more than two years ago, Kanojia — who was born in India, earned a graduate degree from Northeastern University, and sold his last company for millions — publicly launched a brash startup he called Aereo. He wanted to upend the way people watched network TV, one that would bypass cable and satellite companies altogether.
The idea was at once visionary and a throwback. Kanojia and his team pioneered a method of collecting broadcast TV signals using dime-size antennas and then delivering those signals, for a modest monthly fee, as streaming media on smartphones, tablets, and computer screens. This wasn’t about cable channels; it was about network TV, which, under a long-ago deal among broadcasters and the government, had always come free with an antenna. That was true in the days of Walter Cronkite, and it remains so in the Modern Family era. Networks carry upward of 90 of the 100 most-watched shows on television, according to the National Association of Broadcasters.
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