Fifth Estater

Engineering a New TV Model

An entrepreneurial life led ‘brilliant technologist’ to Aereo 8/06/2012 12:01:00 AM Eastern

Chet Kanojia

Title:

Founder and CEO, Aereo

Education:

B.S., National Institute of Technology, Bhopal, India, 1991

Masters in Computer Systems Engineering, Northeastern University, 1993

PhD candidate, Northeastern, 1994-1996

Employment Highlights:

Trainee, Falcon Cement, Saudi Arabia, 1993-94

Staff Engineer, Product Genesis, 1996-99

Founder/CEO, Random Design, 1999-2000

Founder/ CEO, Navic Networks, 1999-2008

Current position since fall 2010

Personal:

b. June 10, 1969; wife, Tracie Longman; children: Ethan, 11; Lily, 9

Chet Kanojia, founder/CEO of Aereo, the TV streaming
start-up, is an engineer and entrepreneur who says
that disruptive technology will eventually mean more
opportunity for both viewers and content companies.

Those who know Kanojia were not
surprised that his controversial business
survived a challenge from broadcasters
in court last month that might have shut
it down. “His level of preparedness is the
most important thing to pay attention
to,” says Shana Fisher,
managing partner of
High Line Venture Partners,
an early investor
in Aereo. Not only were
Kanojia’s legal ducks in
a row, but “every duck,”
Fisher says. “Try to dig a
duck out of the row. It’s
not going to happen.”

Kanojia was born in
Bhopal, India, a city
known for the 1984 gas
leak at a Union Carbide
plant that led to 3,000
deaths. Kanojia, who wasn’t injured,
recalls spending weeks volunteering in
hospitals. “As the magnitude of the disaster
unfolded, even to the young mind it
was pretty shocking stuff,” he says.

He studied mechanical engineering
and, after a stint at his family’s concrete
business, came to the U.S. and got his
master’s in computer systems. He planned
to become a professor, but dropped that
notion when he heard only a fraction of
his time would be spent teaching.

Kanojia says he’s always been entrepreneurial;
he earned money by building
and selling speakers and writing and
licensing software. After working with
a product development consultancy, he
struck out on his own, launching Random
Design, which made productivity
software for lawyers.

But his real interest was the new world
of devices hooked up to the Internet. He
knew the cable industry needed systems
to manage traffic, collect data and support
other products, including video on
demand. He visited Leo
Hindery, who was about
to leave AT&T; Hindery
hooked him up with
CTO Tony Werner, who
gave Kanojia a few settop
boxes to play with
and a development contract
for a new company,
Navic Networks. Kanojia
got to know the cable
industry and collected
advice from some of its
top minds.

“Chet is a brilliant
technologist” with “an ability to think
strategically about the future [and]
people skills that allow him to build an
effective network by working well with
others,” says Nomi Bergman, president
of Bright House Networks. “Chet had a
vision for the value of interactive television,
and the power of our viewership
data, long before cable MSOs realized
there were opportunities in the space.”

When Navic waded into advanced
advertising, it became a takeover target;
in 2008, the company was acquired by
Microsoft for more than $200 million.

Kanojia says the idea for Aereo had
been bubbling in his head for a while.
He thinks that about 20% of consumers
might be happy with a broadband
service that provided the broadcast networks,
plus library programming from
the likes of iTunes, Hulu and Netflix.

“The question became how do you
solve access to broadcast,” he says. An
answer came when Cablevision Systems
won its network DVR lawsuit. “If
the network DVR was legal, why not
a DVR coupled with a network antenna?”
Kanojia asks.

High Line’s Fisher decided to invest in
Kanojia’s “crazy” idea during a 15-minute
lunch. “He gives you an incredible
amount of con! dence he’s going to get
whatever he is doing done,” she says.

Fisher introduced Kanojia to her
old boss, IAC CEO Barry Diller, who
provided later financing. “Barry likes
people who are extremely prepared,
extremely smart, specialists in their areas,
very strategic and very hard working,”
Fisher says. “Chet works as hard
as if this was his first start-up.”

Moving swiftly from prototype to commercial
rollout in a year, Aereo provides
subscribers with individual, dime-sized
antennas at its facilities and transmits the
broadcast signal to them over broadband
without paying the retrans fees cable operators
pay. Understandably, broadcasters
have objected to this, but Kanojia
contends that “everybody in the entire
food chain is better served when there is
growth. We need new people, younger
people; bringing people who are averse
to the traditional cable bundle into the
[TV-watching] fold is a good thing.”

With Aereo currently having the
blessing of the court, Kanojia plans to
expand from Apple’s iO to other platforms
and move into markets beyond
New York. “We haven’t even marketed
the product,” he says.

E-mail comments to jlafayette@nbmedia.com
and follow him on Twitter: @jlafayette

Chet Kanojia

Title:

Founder and CEO, Aereo

Education:

B.S., National Institute of Technology, Bhopal, India, 1991

Masters in Computer Systems Engineering, Northeastern University, 1993

PhD candidate, Northeastern, 1994-1996

Employment Highlights:

Trainee, Falcon Cement, Saudi Arabia, 1993-94

Staff Engineer, Product Genesis, 1996-99

Founder/CEO, Random Design, 1999-2000

Founder/ CEO, Navic Networks, 1999-2008

Current position since fall 2010

Personal:

b. June 10, 1969; wife, Tracie Longman; children: Ethan, 11; Lily, 9

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