TV to go

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If you pay for cable TV, would you pay more for a service that rounded up lots of the channels you’re already getting and let you watch them over the Web whenever you wanted to see them?

Anand Subramanian thinks you will. He says his NimbleTV startup will start selling a new service that gives pay-TV customers access to a Web-based DVR, which will let them watch a wide range of the channels they’re already getting at home on the go, whenever they want.

Unlike Aereo or other versions of Web TV, NimbleTV isn’t supposed to replace existing pay TV providers. Instead it is supposed to operate on top of them — and will be sold separately from them — for an additional charge of up to $10 a month.

Shorter version: Slingbox, without a box.

Nimble TV has already been selling a limited version of this product in New York City, but that version only gave customers extra access to broadcast channels like ABC and CBS. Now Subramanian is going to expand that to dozens of pay-TV channels and says he will expand into new markets this year, starting with Chicago in August.

All of this may cause some head-scratching for consumers, since many pay-TV channels, like ESPN or HBO, are already available on the go, over the Web, to most pay TV customers. But many programmers who have signed so-called “TV Everywhere” deals still have lots of limits about where and when their shows can be watched. Note this recent deal between Comcast and Turner, for instance, which only now provides mobile access to some of Turner’s shows.

NimbleTV may also cause teeth-gnashing and/or lawyer-hiring among pay-TV providers, who are laboriously trying to secure digital and mobile rights for the channels they distribute to TV sets. See, again, the Turner deal, and remember that Turner owner Time Warner is the company that has been pushing hardest for TV Everywhere  — since 2009.

But Subramanian says he’s providing a useful service to customers, since they’ve already paid for the shows but can’t watch them at their convenience. And he says there shouldn’t be any legal issues with the pay-TV guys, since he’s not trying to displace the relationship they have with their customers.

“Our whole point is we’re selling a service to the consumer. The consumer has signed up and has the rights to this programming,” he says. “We’re just helping them watch it.”

I find it hard to believe that the TV Industrial Complex will be okay with this, but so far they haven’t shut him down in New York. I’ve asked Comcast*, which dominates the pay-TV market in Chicago, what it thinks of Subramanian’s plans, but the company declined to comment.

Nimble also sells the product it first started with — a service that lets people who aren’t in New York City get Web access to the TV they would be able to see if they lived there and subscribed to Dish Network’s satellite service. Just typing that sentence is convoluted, and it’s hard to see how there’s a lot of demand for that product, but Subramanian says he’ll keep selling it.

* Comcast owns NBCUniversal, which is a minority investor in Revere Digital, the parent company of Re/code.



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