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Tech startup Aereo steams ahead with rollout plans after new investment despite move to Supreme Court

The aver­age prod­uct man­ag­er or chief rev­enue offi­cer might qui­et­ly find their adren­a­ls work­ing over­time if their fledg­ling tech firm court­ed con­tro­ver­sy from the out­set and found itself embroiled in a legal bat­tle that went all the way to the Supreme Court. But that hasn’t stopped New York tech start­up Aereo from rais­ing a lord­ly $34 mil­lion in Series C, which it plans to plough into expand­ing its stream­ing tele­vi­sion ser­vice to new markets.

Born in controversy

The major net­work broad­cast­ers took an ear­ly dis­like to Aereo after its launch in 2012, chiefly because they took excep­tion to a young upstart (ahem, start­up) dar­ing to trans­mit their pro­gram­ming with­out licens­ing agree­ments. So the copy­right infringe­ment law­suits began, and those prod­uct man­ag­er adren­al glands might just have got busier.

But to be frank, Aereo’s prod­uct man­ag­er Noam Rubin­stein has betrayed no sign of a ner­vous dis­po­si­tion and the company’s CEO and founder, Chet Kono­jia, seems pos­i­tive­ly bull­ish. He’s been unwa­ver­ing­ly con­fi­dent that his firm has been oper­at­ing well with­in the law and has active­ly wel­comed the move to put the broad­cast­ers’ appeal to the Supreme Court. Until Decem­ber, when the move was announced, Aereo had been fire­fight­ing (and win­ning) dif­fer­ent law­suits in dif­fer­ent regions; a Supreme Court deci­sion is now expect­ed lat­er this month.

In a recent inter­view, Kono­jia said:

“We demon­strat­ed the law was on our side [from the start]. And since then we’ve demon­strat­ed it four times. Obvi­ous­ly that adds to the confidence.”

Full steam ahead 

And the con­fi­dence appears to be shared by the startup’s back­ers. Orig­i­nal investor Bar­ry Diller (Chair­man of IAC) was joined by media invest­ment supre­mo Gor­don “Gordy” Craw­ford and Chi­nese human rights activist Li LU, the man behind Himalaya Cap­i­tal Management.

Aereo streams local chan­nels using tiny anten­nae and offers 20 hours of cloud-based DVR stor­age to let users copy the pro­gram­ming for their per­son­al use, all for $8 a month. And its (so far suc­cess­ful) argu­ment is that its cus­tomers have a right to view and copy.

While the law suits have slowed down Aereo’s expan­sion plans, it still man­aged to roll out its ser­vice beyond New York to 10 addi­tion­al mar­kets in 2013, and plans to launch a fur­ther five by the end of Q1 2014.

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