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CBS invests in streaming video company in response to Aereo threat

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CBS logo (STOCK)
CBS logo (STOCK)

Sure, CBS CEO Les Moonves has had some harsh words for streaming TV service Aereo, filing suit against it and even threatening to stop free broadcasts of its shows if the company is allowed to keep operating — but that doesn’t mean CBS has written off streaming broadcast TV altogether. Yesterday, the US’s second-largest TV network announced that it acquired a minority stake in a company called Syncbak, which uses location-based authentication to stream broadcast TV signals to people inside certain markets.

Syncbak partners with the networks

As Bloomberg points out, Syncbak partners with the networks to provide its service, letting CBS get into streaming TV without losing control of its programming. Contrast that with Aereo, which streams straight broadcast television and ignores what the networks want. Despite their vocal opposition, an appellate court ruled that Aereo didn’t need to ask for the networks' permission to operate, finding that the service didn't infringe their copyrights.

Syncbak doesn't provide national network or prime-time programming

Syncbak currently has apps available for iOS and Android but is only available in 47 markets, although another 33 are due to come online in the near future. In comparison, Aereo’s service is limited to parts of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, although that's expanding to 22 more cities this year. Importantly, The Associated Press writes that Syncbak doesn’t currently provide national network or prime-time programming — for example, the only station it offers in San Francisco is KTSF, which broadcasts news and drama from China and the Philippines — while Aereo streams everything its antennas pick up. The scale of CBS’s investment in Syncbak hasn’t been announced, but other strategic investors include the National Association of Broadcasters and the Consumer Electronics Association.

So far Syncbak might not amount to much, but it offers networks the promise of a point of entry into the nascent streaming broadcast TV business without ceding much control. CBS says it expects to work closely with advertisers, rights holders, and telco partners as Syncbak service expands over "the coming months and years."