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Aereo’s Heir: Simple.tv to Launch New Cloud DVR Called ShowDrive (Exclusive)

Aereo may be dead, but that doesn’t stop a number of startups trying to reinvent the DVR for the Netflix age. One of them is Simple.tv, which is about to unveil a major change in direction with the launch of a new cloud DVR.

ShowDrive, as the new product is being called, will allow consumers to store up to a thousand hours of broadcast TV recordings in the cloud, and then stream those recorded shows and movies to internet-connected TVs, streaming boxes and mobile devices. If successful, ShowDrive could give cord cutting another boost — and unlike Aereo, there’s little broadcasters can do about it, since ShowDrive is based on technology with a strong legal precedent.

ShowDrive will first debut in the U.K., where the company is about to start a beta test with a still-unannounced consumer electronics manufacturer in the coming weeks. British TV viewers will be able to buy a dedicated ShowDrive Freeview box that will allow them to tap into the country’s digital terrestrial broadcast system to watch and record shows from networks like BBC, ITV and Channel 4.

The box plugs into any new TV, and also offers access to some online video apps. There’s a programming guide on TV, allowing consumers to chose which shows to record, and which recordings to keep or delete. But the ShowDrive Freeview box doesn’t come with an internal hard drive to record shows; instead, it uploads recordings to the cloud, where they are instantly transcoded and made available for streaming.

Simple.tv founder Mark Ely gave Variety a preview of ShowDrive last week, showing a mobile app that integrated data from third-party streaming services. This will allow consumers to get episodes of shows they missed to record from streaming services, he explained.

Simple.tv plans to charge British consumers £1 (about $1.55) per month for 100 hours of cloud recording capability, and £5 for 1000 hours. The company is looking to launch with U.S. partners next year.

This isn’t Simple.tv’s first stab at reinventing the digital video recorder: The company first launched a networked DVR in 2012. That device recorded broadcast TV on an external hard drive and then streamed it to mobile and TV-connected devices. However, consumers weren’t able to connect the device directly to their TV sets, and early adopters complained about the idea to pay the company a monthly fee for the ability to record TV programs on their own hard drives.

Simple.tv launched a second-generation device in cooperation with TV tuner maker SiliconDust in late 2013, but struggled with hardware issues and a high price point. For a while, things turned very quiet, and Simple.tv moved away from selling hardware to fully concentrate on the cloud DVR project.

To that end, the company also raised $5 million in new funding, and hired david Trescot as its new CEO. Trescot previously worked at Adobe and Harmonic and has an extensive background in cloud-based video services, something that should come in handy as Simple.tv launches ShowDrive.

Ely said that Simple.tv plans to announce first U.S. partnerships at CES in Las Vegas this coming January. To go stateside, the company wants to team up with TV manufacturers to add the cloud DVR directly to TV sets, with no additional boxes required. He added that the company plans top continue to support existing Simple.tv hardware, and eventually offer users of legacy devices incentives to switch to the new service.

Cloud DVRs aren’t entirely new: Cable operators have been working on moving their customer’s recordings to the cloud for years. Cablevision was an early pioneer, introducing a cloud DVR in 2006, and got sued for it by Hollywood soon after. However, the studio’s case faltered when the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the technology to be legal in 2008 and the Supreme Court subsequently refused to take up the case.

More recently, Aereo tried to put a different spin on the cloud DVR, centralizing the recording of content with its antenna farms. Courts ruled that this crossed the line to public retransmissions of broadcaster’s content, something the startup didn’t have a license for.

Simple.tv on the other hand captures recordings at consumers’ homes, and only uses the cloud for storage and transcoding, much in the same way Cablevision and Comcast do it with their cloud DVRs. The difference is that ShowDrive won’t require a cable subscription, which could give further fuel to cord cutting.

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