Investors in the controversial TV-streaming service Aereo just doubled down on their bet.
Raising $34 million in new funding this week from a slate of its existing backers and a couple new big media-investor supporters, the New York City-based company now has nearly $100 million in backing. That'll help it both fight existing legal battles and expand to new cities--it's aiming at five new markets in the first few months of 2014.
Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia said in a release: "Aereo has scaled very quickly in 365 days and this additional funding will allow us to maintain this rapid pace of growth. We are thrilled to have a world-class group of investors who believe innovative, cloud-based technologies, like Aereo, are the future."
The company has fascinated media and the tech community with its innovative use of thousands of small antennas to capture free TV signals from airwaves and transmit them to subscribers online for $8 to $12 a month. That's all the more interesting because the company doesn't pay any fees to the original broadcasters, unlike traditional rebroadcasters. And that's where it's getting in trouble with major networks.
Broadcasters claim Aereo is violating copyright laws by stealing signals. Aereo argues that public airwaves are just that--public. To this point, the courts have sided with Aereo.
Investors are clearly delighted with the disruptive prospects of that strategy. In the new $34 million round of Series C financing, the company’s lead investor, IAC, is joined by Gordon Crawford, a former investor at Capital Research and Management who's close with IAC's Chairman Barry Diller, and Himalaya Capital Management. Prior investors, including Highland Capital Partners and FirstMark Capital also joined in on the funding round.
In December, Aereo took a couple of unorthodox steps. First, it not just shrugged when a several large corporations--including the CBS and Fox networks and Major League Baseball--urged the U.S. Supreme Court to take up a case against Aereo. Kanojia's response? Be my guest.
Next, the company was extremely transparent about its struggles to expand to new cities and develop new antenna technology that's sturdy enough to withstand harsh outdoor conditions.
As disruptive as Aereo is on a technological front, it's just as grounded in the best practices that can help make any company thrive. Customer service is a significant priority for the company, and Kanojia explained his strategy on that front to me last year.
While the Supreme Court may not touch the case, it could take up the issue as early as Friday, January 10, at its next court conference.