Aereo's capacity issues could drum up subscriber interest

Josh Wein, FierceOnlineVideo

Did Aereo just take a page out of Apple's retail strategy playbook?

Just before the Super Bowl, reports surfaced indicating Aereo had reached capacity in a few markets. It started in New York City, the market where Aereo first began operating, and then spread to Atlanta and Miami. Aereo then revealed it had run into similar issues in Boston in the past. In each case, people who wanted to sign up for Aereo were turned away and added to a waiting list. In other words, they were told to get in line.

New Yorkers (and some San Franciscans) notoriously love to line up for something new or popular. And Apple has proven again and again that lines are a reliable way to drum up both attention and demand when a new product launches.

So it doesn't seem like a stretch to think Aereo might have welcomed those capacity issues just before two major live broadcast events--the Super Bowl and Winter Olympics. Reports of Aereo's capacity issues appeared in dozens of mainstream and trade publications (including this one.)

Capacity was quickly added in New York to accommodate some of those who had been turned away, but it's not clear how much. According to a report in CNET, the company began offering spots to those on its waiting list late last week. Newcomers were still sent to the back of the line.

For now, in addition to adding capacity in the markets where it already operates, Aereo continues to expand into new territories. It will turn on service in and around San Antonio next week and plans to enter more markets in 2014.

That's presuming it gets the chance to continue expanding. On April 22, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in a case stemming from a lawsuit TV station owners filed against Aereo in New York. By June, the Supreme Court could settle some of the legal questions around Aereo.

In the meantime, I won't be surprised to see more headlines with regard to capacity issues in major markets. I'm sure the company is doing everything it can to accommodate new users. At this point it needs all the customers it can get. And unlike when Apple introduces a new product, news crews can't take photos of Aereo's waiting list.

But the consumer psychology seems to play to Aereo's advantage. After all, if Aereo is so popular it can't keep up with demand, it must be worth waiting for, right?

And with the Supreme Court decision hanging over the company like the sword of Damocles, Aereo may have another marketing pitch to deploy: Act now while supplies last!--Josh