Peter Kafka

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NimbleTV Brings TV Everywhere to New York, Without Permission From the TV Industrial Complex

Want to watch the TV you’ve already paid for, anywhere you want to watch it, whenever you want to watch it?

You can’t.* But NimbleTV says it can change that.

And the startup, which wants to attach itself to the TV Industrial Complex by delivering pay TV over the Web, says it is now open for business in the New York City area, following a year-long trial.

Nimble’s consumer offering, and its underlying business, have been challenging to explain. Now the task is even harder, because Nimble has added a new twist. But bear with me:

  • The basic idea behind Nimble is that it lets people who pay for cable TV, or satellite TV, or telco TV, get that TV delivered over the Web, to their iPhone, or PC, or whatever device they want, wherever they are. In practice, what that means is that Nimble sets up an account for you with a pay-TV provider, then charges you an extra fee for digital delivery.
  • What that really means, for now, is that people with a New York-area mailing address can get a Dish satellite TV subscription without having to deal with a satellite on their roof, and then they can watch Dish anywhere they want. This might be useful, for instance, if you’re a big Giants fan (sorry) and you want to watch a game that’s only being shown in New York when you’re traveling to Minnesota (sorry!). Prices for that start at $30 a month for a very basic package, and then shoot up (remember that Nimble is adding its own fee on top of Dish’s monthly charge; also remember that you’ll still need a broadband account from someone else).
  • Nimble’s new offering is available to New York residents who already have pay TV with another service, like Time Warner Cable: For another $4 a month, Nimble will let you stream 24 over-the-air broadcast signals to your Nexus 5, or whatever. That is, it is basically offering the same service Aereo offers for $8 a month.

Got all that? Okay, because it gets more confusing:

  • The last time we checked in on NimbleTV, it was out of action, because Dish had cut it off in July. As best I can tell, Dish was concerned that Nimble was suggesting that it had a formal relationship with Dish. Since then, Nimble revamped its website and marketing materials, and NimbleTV CEO Anand Subramanian tries very hard not to mention Dish by name when he talks about his service. And Dish hasn’t cut if off since.
  • So perhaps Dish really is okay with NimbleTV essentially reselling its service. But when I asked Dish executives about this last week, they sent me the same line they gave me this summer: “NimbleTV is not an authorized DISH retailer, and is not authorized by DISH to market or promote our services.”
  • NimbleTV also won’t spell out exactly how it pulls down broadcast TV signals and sends them over the Web, though Subramanian says he is not using the antenna method that Aereo uses for its service. But just like Aereo, he does say that he doesn’t have any agreements with any pay TV providers, or any broadcasters or TV stations, and that he doesn’t need them. “We want to effectively help the consumer access TV, as long as they’ve paid for it,” he says.
  • While programmers are fighting Aereo tooth and nail, I haven’t found a programmer that wants to say anything threatening about NimbleTV yet. And perhaps the fact that consumers are already paying broadcasters like ABC and Fox for their programming, via their pay TV subscription, will keep them happy. But it seems hard to imagine that Nimble isn’t going to spend some time in court.

Still here? Cool!

To sum up: NimbleTV offers portable TV, at a price, in a way that might appeal to some people who are okay with paying for TV, and will pay a premium for flexibility. But the setup seems pretty precarious for the time being.

* You’re supposed to be able to do this, via the TV Industrial Complex’s “TV Everywhere” program. But that’s a long way from delivering what it’s supposed to deliver.

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