Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Dyle Brings Legal, Live TV to Your iPad, With Many Strings Attached

Want to watch live TV on your iPad? You don’t have many options.

A handful of networks, including Disney and ESPN, will stream shows to your tablet, but you’ll need a cable subscription to make them work.

And if you live in New York City, Aereo will let you watch programming from broadcast networks. But since it isn’t paying the networks for that programming, the networks are suing to shut Aereo down.

So here’s another choice: Dyle, which launches for Apple’s iOS devices today. You’re probably not going to love it.

Dyle is backed by a consortium that includes NBC, Fox* and a lot of broadcast station owners, and it does have some things going for it:

  • Dyle is free, for now.
  • Dyle doesn’t require Wi-Fi or wireless service, because it’s beamed over the same airwaves the TV stations (still) use to send signals to TV sets. That means you can watch all you want, without worrying about data caps or charges.
  • Since Dyle is backed by (some) of the networks and TV stations, there’s no legal gray area: It’s 100 percent legit.

On the other hand:

  • You’ll need a $100 adapter — basically a combination antenna and battery — in order to use Dyle on Apple devices.
  • Dyle only provides you with a handful of programming choices in the 35 cities it operates in — basically, whatever’s on most NBC and Fox stations, and a smattering of other channels.
  • Dyle doesn’t offer any DVR functions, which means you have to watch in real time or not at all. And you can’t fast-forward through commercials.
  • One of live TV’s biggest selling points is sports. But a rights blackout means you can’t watch NFL games on Dyle. (That’s the only programming hole, though: An earlier version of the service did let users watch NBC’s Olympics broadcast, and Fox’s World Series games this year.)
  • If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t want to buy an iPad mini because it doesn’t have Retina display, you’re not going to want to come near Dyle, which doesn’t broadcast in anything like HD. The picture looks okay on an iPhone, but by the time the image gets blown up to an iPad-size screen, it’s quite grainy.
  • Dyle’s backers can’t promise that the service will remain free after the end of this year. It probably will. But, for whatever reason, they won’t say that out loud.

That’s a lot of hurdles to put in front of a consumer pondering a purchase. So why is Dyle bothering at all?

Dyle’s backers won’t come out and put it this way, but this appears to be a proof-of-concept test instead of a full-fledged product launch (Dyle has already been on the market for a few months, via MetroPCS’s Samsung Galaxy S Lightray 4G, which comes with a preinstalled app and a built-in antenna).

You can imagine a future where Dyle would make more sense: It would offer TV from all the broadcasters, and the hardware it needs would get built directly into the gadgets themselves; it would also offer features like recording capabilities.

And at that point the Dyle guys could play around with different business models: They could charge a monthly fee for service. Or bundle it for “free” with a cable TV subscription.

But in order to get to that point, the Dyle guys need to prove that there’s demand for what they’re already offering. It’s a tough chicken-and-egg problem, but you can at least give them credit for trying.

*Fox is owned by News Corp., which also owns this Web site.

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— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google