FORTUNE -- Since the advent of the Internet, web TV has perpetually lingered over the horizon. Years after major cable companies unveiled "TV everywhere" initiatives and giants Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOG), and Microsoft (MSFT) began peddling hardware to beam the Internet to televisions, the merging of the Net and the tube is incomplete. Consumers face a mess of discordant devices and services, not to mention spotty availability, as cable providers, networks, and tech companies squabble over turf. Now a new crop of services may finally make good on the promise of ubiquitous TV.
The latest entrant is NimbleTV, which lets viewers watch and record anything, anytime via its website. With backing from the Tribune Co., among others, the New York City-based service streams the package of TV channels a customer buys from a cable provider online. Instead of paying the world's Comcasts, customers pay NimbleTV. How much exactly hasn't been determined, though the fee will be slightly more than a typical cable bill. The startup acts as a broker, managing a subscriber's relationship with providers, passing on most of the fee to providers and keeping a small percentage.
Sound familiar? It's the same technology used in Sling Media's Slingbox. That set-top device allows consumers to watch TV channels remotely using a phone or laptop. Cablevision (CVC) and Time Warner Cable (TWC) offer apps that replicate all or part of subscribers' live-TV lineup on mobile devices. And Comcast's (CMSCA) Xfinity allows access to shows online, but only after they have aired. NimbleTV aims to improve on all those by doing away with bulky hardware, providing a better picture, and offering a virtual video recorder that can save thousands of hours of programming. Founder and chief executive Anand Subramanian says he doesn't need cable providers to sanction him in order for the business to work.
Should NimbleTV catch on, it could break the geographic monopolies cable providers enjoy. If, for instance, a small Omaha-based cable provider offers better prices than a local cable firm, a NimbleTV customer could switch. That might pit cable companies from different parts of the country against one another.
For now, NimbleTV hopes to avoid the fate of startup Aereo. Backed by Barry Diller's IAC (IACI), Aereo streams and records basic broadcast channels to web-enabled devices for $12 a month in the greater New York City area. It does so by storing antennas -- high-end versions of bunny ears -- in a Brooklyn warehouse; customers essentially rent them. Even before its March launch, virtually all of the city's broadcasters banded together to file two suits, citing copyright infringements. The cases are pending, and Aereo is still operating.
Both services suggest that web TV has finally arrived -- in New York at least. But the $150 billion-a-year home-entertainment industry is not easily disrupted. As much as consumers may be clamoring to watch on the go, the question of who will pay for it -- and who will get paid -- remains wide open.
This story is from the June 11, 2012 issue of Fortune.
Google TV. Xbox. Apple TV. Roku. All these gadgets promise to make television more like the web. There's just one hitch: None of them are ready for primetime.
By Jessi Hempel, senior writer
I had great expectations for Google TV. When the brick-size plastic box that powered it arrived at my home, I was able to hook it up in less than 10 minutes -- I didn't even need directions. I scrolled MOREJan 3, 2011 5:00 AM ET
The new products would put the leading HDTV maker in the Android camp.
Vizio was already planning to introduce a GoogleTV at CES this week. Now it appears they have some other Google (GOOG) products on order. The WSJ reports that they plan on revealing a 4-inch cell phone and an 8-inch tablet.
The Irvine, Calif., company said its first mobile phone, to be called Via Phone, will have a 4-inch screen, a front-facing MORESeth Weintraub - Jan 2, 2011 11:36 PM ET
The poorly-reviewed TV platform is going to miss its coming out party at CES.
According to the New York Times, Google (GOOG) has massively cut back its GoogleTV product's planned releases from CES, which is to take place from January 6-9. Toshiba, LG Electronics and Sharp were all set to announce products at CES running GoogleTV but will hold off until a newer version of the software, which will run apps, hits the MORESeth Weintraub - Dec 20, 2010 9:34 AM ET
Every day, the Fortune staff spends hours poring over tech stories, posts, and reviews from all over the Web to keep tabs on the companies that matter. We've assembled the Thanksgiving weekend's most newsworthy bits below.
"ChromeOS machines could immediately replace 60% of the Windows desktops in the corporate market." -- Linus Upson, VP Engineering of Google Chrome (Fortune)Black Friday sales rose a meager 0.3% compared with last year. Despite thefts, MORE JP Mangalindan, Writer - Nov 29, 2010 5:47 AM ET
Every day, the Fortune staff spends hours poring over tech stories, posts, and reviews from all over the Web to keep tabs on the companies that matter. We've assembled the day's most newsworthy bits below.Less than an hour after TV media like Anderson Cooper and Dr. Phil accused Amazon of "peddling pedophilia" for recognizing and selling a pedophile "how-to" guide on Amazon's Bestsellers list, the ecommerce site pulled it from its MORE JP Mangalindan, Writer - Nov 11, 2010 6:00 AM ET
Gizmo maker Logitech hopes to make it big in the consumer electronics business.
Logitech, best known for making computer accessories like mice, webcams, and keyboards, wants to be a player in a burgeoning and potentially hot business: smart TV. And it has teamed up with Google and Intel to do it.
Based in Fremont, Calif., Logitech (LOGI) is the first company out of the gate with a contraption that brings Google's new MOREMichael V. Copeland, Senior Writer - Nov 3, 2010 3:00 AM ET
Every day, the Fortune staff spends hours poring over tech stories, posts, and reviews from all over the Web to keep tabs on the companies that matter. We've assembled the day's most newsworthy bits below.
ABC, CBS and NBC are blocking TV programming on their web sites from being viewable on the newly-launched Google TV. (IT World)
HP is finally releasing a tablet, the Windows 7-loaded HP Slate MORE
One chipmaker rules the mobile device arena; the other dominates personal computers. Both have ambitious goals for expansion, and that means butting heads is inevitable
By Seth Weintraub and JP Mangalindan
As Intel's power-hungry chips grow more efficient and ARM CPU designs make strides in performance, the two chipmakers find themselves facing off for market share in a familial safe ground that's become a veritable hot zone brimming with untapped potential and MOREJun 8, 2010 2:07 PM ET
There might just be a market for a $99 iPhone (without the phone bill) that plugs into your TV
I tried to live with Apple TV for a couple months last year, but our relationship never quite clicked.
Maybe it was my fault. Other people seem to like the thing (although it has all-but disappeared since then from Apple's online store).
In any event, I found the movie and TV selection limited, MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - May 28, 2010 2:27 PM ET
|Ousted Yahoo exec gets $58 million golden parachute|
|Canadians arrest a Heartbleed hacker|
|US Airways won't fire worker who sent lewd tweet|
|Obama would cut deficits by another $1 trillion|
|Hybrid laundromat-cafes are popping up across the country|