Aereo CEO says free content might be on the way

Aereo’s approach to letting consumers access broadcast TV content on their mobile devices and computers is nothing if not disruptive, and Wednesday at our paidContent Live conference in New York, CEO Chet Kanojia upped the ante even more. Discussing how the company will be able to expand its channel offerings without falling into the old traps of cable pricing, he suggested that a free or low-cost news package is likely on the horizon.

It’s part of a bigger plan to figure out how to address consumers’ base needs first and foremost, before then adding the nice-to-have features for a price. Aereo sees the future of television content as being what Kanojia calls “skinny live, deep library,” so the live parts are only for the content people really need in real time — stuff like news and sports.

“(The consumer is) the one constituent in this industry that’s unserved,” Kanojia said. “Everyone’s businesses are stacked to take advantage of the consumer, not to serve the consumer.”

If on the other hand, the value-add of a movie channel (oh, Aereo’s probably going to add one of those, too) is to watch stuff on your own time, people will probably willing to pay 50 cents or a dollar a month, he said. The same thing goes for programming from, hypothetically, a content provider like Viacom has a broad range of shows that people don’t really need or want to see only while they’re airing.

The only way to do this correctly, though, is to avoid traditional licensing models that have jacked cable prices through the roof and have led to a lot bloat because consumers are getting way more channels than they ever would want to watch. Kanojia wants Aereo to provide 50 percent of the value for 10 percent of the cost of cable, and then let partners and services like Netflix (s nflx) or Amazon Prime (s amzn) fill in the rest.

“The last time I checked,” he joked, “there’s no need to have Desperate Housewives or the Real Housewives of Orange County running on four channels at the same time.”

As for those lawsuits that have plagued the company since its inception, Kanojia said he’s not surprised but he’s disappointed by threats from companies such as Fox (s nws) and CBS (s cbs) to pull their stations off the public airwaves (the spectrum on which is provided for free because stations are supposed to operate in part in the public interest).

“I just don’t understand the logic behind that,” he said. “I think it’s disappointing to say the least.”

But with significant legal victories already behind it, the future looks a little clearer. He expects the company model could realistically net the company 20 percent of the American television market, and the company is expanding fast outside of New York. It’s supposed to be in 22 more cities by July.

“The one thing that would float by boat more than anything else,” Kanojia said, “is I get a chance to put my product in front of consumers and be judged by the consumers.”

Check out the rest of our paidContent Live 2013 coverage here, and a video embed of the session follows below:

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A transcription of the video follows on the next page