NimbleTV, a Slingbox-like service with no box, starts trials

NimbleTV, a new streaming video service that could be useful if it doesn't get sued into oblivion, is now in trials.

NimbleTV is a service that streams cable or satellite TV to any Internet-connected device, including phones, tablets, laptops, and connected televisions. After being announced in April, NimbleTV has begun a small beta rollout in New York, according to All Things Digital.

The idea of watching pay TV channels remotely through streaming video may sound a bit like Slingbox, but there's a key difference: NimbleTV requires no extra hardware on the user's end.

The company signs up for TV service from cable and satellite providers and stores the set-top boxes at its own facilities, where it then streams out the video over the Web. Users get unlimited recording of shows and can record multiple shows at once.

Users will, of course, have to pay for the TV service, just as they would if they signed up for cable on their own. NimbleTV plans to charge on top of that, possibly by about $20 per month, in early 2013. This month, about 250 beta users will be enjoying the service for free.

Other tries along the same lines

The concept reminds me of Zediva, a service that used actual DVD players and DVDs to stream video rentals on the cheap from its own server rooms. Zediva succumbed to a lawsuit from the movie industry in 2011.

NimbleTV is also somewhat similar to Aereo, which stores a huge array of tiny antennas in its own data center, then rents them out to subscribers for $12 per month, so users can stream broadcast TV to all kinds of devices. Aereo is currently in a legal battle with TV broadcasters.

NimbleTV's best hope is the fact that it's still paying TV providers for their services, so it's not exactly stealing their business. But given that these providers are finding their own ways to stream TV shows to their customers, chances are they won't be happy about giving up control to a startup.

The fact that NimbleTV could eventually bring in service from other geographic regions may also upset sports leagues, who offer expensive packages to watch out-of-out market teams.

So far, NimbleTV hasn't been sued, but All Things Digital's Peter Kafka says he has a hunch that cease-and-desist letters are on the way, after speaking to a couple of providers this week.

NimbleTV may not survive anyway, due to its additional subscription cost and the scaling issues that go along with acquiring and storing large quantities of cable boxes in server rooms. But the fact that this service even exists only illustrates how behind the times the pay TV industry has become in letting users access live TV from anywhere.

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