A new cloud-based TV service is launching in Chicago Wednesday enabling local cable subscribers to watch their full channel lineups live online, from any location.
NimbleTV, a two-year-old company funded in part by Chicago-based Tribune Media, streams basic cable programming for Comcast, RCN and AT&T U-verse subscribers at no additional charge. The service offers a virtual DVR to record shows starting at $4.99 per month, with higher-priced packages available to access premium channels such as HBO and Showtime.
The latest entrant into the slowly-evolving TV Everywhere landscape, NimbleTV is designed to untether cable subscribers from their set-top boxes, something that cable and satellite providers have yet to fully achieve. Comcast, for example, offers about 50 channels for live streaming through its Xfinity TV Go app. NimbleTV will serve up nearly 150 local and network channels right out of the box.
"TV Everywhere has been talked about for a long time,” said Anand Subramanian, founder and CEO of New York-based NimbleTV. “We have a solution where people can effectively start having that experience today.”
NimbleTV started providing service in New York last fall. Chicago is the company’s second market, with plans to expand to 10 cities by year’s end, including Los Angeles, Atlanta, Boston and Dallas.
Subramanian declined to disclose the number of subscribers who have signed up so far in New York.
The service has no affiliation with any cable or satellite operator. It sets up data centers in each market to receive the localized cable programming. After authenticating subscribers, Nimble TV provides a virtual set-top box for each customer, allowing them to live stream their programming from any location on a variety of devices, including smart phones and tablets.
Subramanian, 41, a serial entrepreneur whose previous ventures include ContextWeb, a pioneering online ad exchange, likens NimbleTV to a virtual Slingbox, a hardware device which taps directly into a user’s cable box to deliver remote access. Unlike Slingbox, NimbleTV doesn’t affect the home signal, meaning remote users can watch whatever they want in real time, avoiding a virtual battle over the remote control.
“This is not a revolutionary product, it’s an evolutionary product,” Subramanian said. “It basically takes all the set-top boxes and wires at your home and virtualizes it in the cloud."
Sling, the 10-year-old California-based maker of the Slingbox, seemed to welcome the comparison and the publicity from new competitors in its space.
“I think those are really good for our business because it shows a demand for this type of experience, of being able to access content on your mobile device,” said Brian Jaquet, a Sling spokesman.
Subramanian went to great lengths, however, to distance NimbleTV from Aereo Inc., which was all but shut down in June after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the online service violated copyright laws by using antenna farms to rebroadcast over-the-air television signals to subscribers. Tribune Co. was among the broadcasters who brought the lawsuit against Aereo, seeking to protect lucrative retransmission fees paid by cable companies to carry their signals.
“Aereo and NimbleTV are in very different spaces,” Subramanian said. “We are in fair use, where you have paid for the content legally and hence have access to that content.”
Early NimbleTV backers include Tribune Co., Greycroft Partners and Tribeca Venture Partners, which together invested $6.5 million in the company in 2012. Other investors include Jeff Zucker, the president of CNN Worldwide and the former head of NBC Universal, according to Subramanian.
Tribune Co., now known as Tribune Media, spun off the Chicago Tribune and nine other daily newspapers into a stand-alone company this month. A Tribune Media spokesman declined to comment on the company’s investment in NimbleTV.
Subramanian said the cable industry is five or six years away from fully realizing the TV Everywhere experience. He is hoping by that time, NimbleTV’s virtual DVR service will have “traction,” along with other online content he plans to add to the offerings.
Cable and broadcasting companies have yet to challenge the NimbleTV model, according to Subramanian. A Comcast spokesman declined to comment.
“We are not an Aereo,” Subramanian said. “We are not trying to disrupt their ecosystem. We’re just simply adding value to the consumer. So far everybody has been very, very welcoming of us.”