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Here's How Many Subscribers Aereo Had Last Year

For the first time ever, the "paused" Web TV service tells the world how many customers it had.

Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Aereo generated lots of attention from the media world in the run-up to its Supreme Court case this spring.

Consumers may have been less interested: Paperwork filed with the U.S. Copyright Office this month indicates that the startup, which let users watch broadcast TV on the Web and mobile devices, ended 2013 with fewer than 80,000 subscribers.

Aereo had 77,596 subscribers, spread out among 10 cities, at the end of 2013, according to documents the company has filed with the U.S. Copyright Office, as part of its bid to be classified as a cable company.

About 27,000 of those subscribers lived in the New York City area, which was Aereo’s first market, and launched in the spring of 2012. Boston, which launched in the spring of 2013, had 12,000 subscribers. The Atlanta area, which also launched in 2013, accounted for 10,000 subscribers.

For comparison: Netflix just announced that it has more than 50 million subscribers around the world for its streaming video service. Last spring, Hulu said it has 6 million subscribers for its premium service.

Seth Davidson, an attorney specializing in media and copyright cases, flagged the New York City numbers during a conference call hosted last week by media analysts MoffettNathanson; the research firm posted a recording of the call today.

And last week, a Copyright Office letter seemed to suggest Aereo had fewer than 100,000 subscribers at the end of last year.

But now we don’t have to guess about Aereo’s uptake with consumers for its offering, which sold digital access to broadcast TV programming for up to $12 a month. One thing we don’t know is what happened to Aereo this year, when it marketed some territories more aggressively.

In June, the service said it would “pause” operations in light of its defeat at the Supreme Court.

While Aereo never disclosed subscriber numbers, it always maintained that it was aiming for a large market — last fall, CEO Chet Kanojia told The Wall Street Journal his infrastructure could “easily” support 350,000 subscribers in New York City, and the Journal estimated he was serving up to 135,000 customers in New York at the time.

An Aereo PR rep declined to comment.

All of this could easily be moot at this point, since Aereo is waiting to hear what a federal judge decides to do with the company in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling. But it’s a good reminder that the legal issues were only one of the hurdles Aereo had to clear if it wanted to win — the company also had to convince customers to pay up.

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