Aereo, the Internet TV startup hit with copyright-infringement lawsuits from broadcasters, claims to have officially launched its $12 monthly service for consumers in New York City -- although it currently isn't letting the general public sign up immediately.
In a press release Wednesday, the company touted its launch of the service, offering customers in the New York metro area a 90-day free trial for the ability to watch more than 20 live TV channels on up to five devices.
Aereo has supposedly set up giant arrays of "thousands" of dime-sized antennas somewhere in Brooklyn, which receive over-the-air signals then transcode them for live viewing or DVR playback to an iPad, iPhone 4 or 4S, or Apple TV box via AirPlay. The $12 monthly fee includes 40 hours of DVR storage and access on up to five devices.
But New Yorkers who have tried to sign up for Aereo are informed that the service is currently available "by invitation only." Users must submit their email address and wait for Aereo to contact them.
"Similar to services like Pinterest and Fab, Aereo will send out invites on an ongoing basis," Aereo spokesman Mike Schroeder said. "People who sign up today should expect to get an email with access to their account within 24 hours."
Aereo has not disclosed how many tiny antennas are currently in operation in New York.
Aereo -- whose tagline is "No Cable Required" -- was sued earlier this month in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, in two separate lawsuits alleging copyright infringement. In a joint statement, ABC, CBS and NBC said Aereo's service "is based on the illegal use of our content. Beyond that, we believe the complaint speaks for itself."
The broadcasters' lawsuits, which allege violations of copyright laws, ask the court for an injunction to block the service as well as damages and court costs.
Aereo responded with a countersuit filed Monday, seeking a judgment that its service is perfectly within the letter of the law -- arguing that consumers have a right to access local TV signals using individual antennas.
Aereo is hoping to prevail in part based on the Supreme Court's 2009 decision not to review a ruling upholding Cablevision Systems' right to offer a DVR service "in the cloud." In the lawsuit, which was filed by a consortium of content owners, an appeals court agreed with the MSO's argument that its Remote Storage DVR (RS-DVR) was exactly the same as a conventional in-home DVR -- with the key technical requirement that each subscriber must have a dedicated physical disk in the headend.
Aereo's New York operations are based in Long Island City, N.Y. The company recently announced $20.5 million in financing led by Barry Diller's IAC. Previous investors include Gary Lauder, FirstMark Capital, First Round Capital, High Line Venture Partners and Highland Capital Partners.