Bamboom raises the stakes on online television

editor's corner

Jim O'Neill

Yet another company has arrived singing the siren song of delivering live broadcast TV to connected devices.

New York startup Bamboom Labs is more than a month into beta testing a service that enables users to watch any broadcast television live or recorded on a virtual DVD. Bamboom says it's deploying hundreds of thousands of miniaturized antennas, each smaller than a dime, each to be leased individually by users. The antenna, with an associated tuner and personal DVR, are connected to the cloud, which delivers the content to Web-connected devices.

Bamboom says it's content will be limited to the areas normally served by a broadcast, so WABC in New York will be available only to users who live in the New York TV market. That's significantly different than, say, ivi TV, which took broadcast signals and streamed them online to users anywhere in the U.S. for a $5 monthly fee. Ivi contended, before being shut down by a judge, that it was paying royalties to the Copyright Office and was operating as an Internet-based cable company.

Another difference is that Bamboom Labs contends that since its users lease the antennas, just like an individual mounts an HD antenna on top of a TV set or a rooftop, there's no reason the content can't be streamed to them from those antennas to any device.

If it sounds familiar, like another startup that immediately cooked up big interest only to go up in smoke, you're right.

Zediva arrived on the scene with a business plan that "rented" DVDs and connected DVD players to subscribers who then were able to stream the movies from Zediva's Santa Clara headquarters to their homes. That business is battling a multitude of studios that don't buy the company's argument.

Ivi faced a similar legal assault. The Seattle-based service rolled out Internet-delivered live TV from Seattle, L.A., New York and Chicago for several months--and was able to sign up tens of thousands of subscribers--before it was forced to shut down.

Bamboom, though, says its raised $4.5 million in seed money (Ivi had far less than $1 million at launch) and said it has reserved a significant chunk of that with which to battle tentative lawsuits.

It's going to need it.

Ivi's temporary popularity, and Zediva's quick ascent are two reasons why company's like Bamboom Labs continue to crop up. Another is subscribers' continued disenchantment with bundles of unwanted channels and a seemingly endless escalation of costs. Is Bamboom the answer? Is it really a threat to pay-TV service providers?

Not likely, but it won't be the last, or best funded, service that will continue to push the edge of the envelope. This is a journey that's really just begun.--Jim