CBS Threatens To Go Web-Only If Aereo Wins

CBS chief Les Moonves suggested today that the company could move to a Web-only model, if Aereo prevails at the Supreme Court.

“If Aereo ... can win, which we don’t think they can, we can go OTT,”  he  reportedly said, referring to “over-the-top” Internet television. “If the government wants to give them permission to steal our signal, we will find another way to get them our content and get paid for it.”

This isn't the first time a television executive has raised the possibility that a network could stop offering over-the-air programs if Aereo wins. Last April, News Corp's Chase Carey said the company might pull Fox from the airwaves and turn it into a cable-only service. “If we can’t have our rights properly protected through legal and governmental solutions, we will pursue business solutions,” he reportedly said at the National Association of Broadcasters conference.

But as a practical matter, the broadcast networks don't appear to be in any position to  stop offering over-the-air television in the near future -- and certainly not by June, which is when the Supreme Court is expected to decide whether Aereo is legal.

In fact, one of broadcasters' biggest complaints about Aereo is that the startup beat them to the punch online. Consider, when Hearst (which owns the ABC affiliate WCVB in Boston) sued Aereo in Massachusetts, the broadcaster said it couldn't offer Web streams of all of its programs. “For broadcasters like WCVB, Internet streaming involves discussions, negotiations and agreements between and among various stakeholders” the company argued. Bill Fine, president and general manager of WCVB, added in court papers that the station can't stream network programs without first obtaining the content owner's permission. He argued that Aereo's launch in Boston would therefore “deprive WCVB of a significant first-mover advantage.”

Of course, even if the networks overcame all logistical barriers tomorrow, that doesn't mean that they would really decide to stop broadcasting free TV. After all, as many as 60 million Americans watch television via antennas, at least according to GfK. Some of those viewers might decide to watch television programs online, if they were no longer available over-the-air -- though whether they would pay to do so isn't known. But it's obvious that the networks would lose some significant portion of viewers by ending free broadcasts. And in a world where networks fight to attract an audience, it doesn't seem likely that they will be eager to lose viewers.

Tags: streaming, tv
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7 comments about "CBS Threatens To Go Web-Only If Aereo Wins".
  1. Peter Benjamin from MyOffices , March 11, 2014 at 6:41 p.m.
    Once again a bunch of chest pounding for nothing. They should talk about the free money they receive from tax subsidies that they are not passing on to the consumer. With the death of analog tv came end of Public Broadcast Tv where many tv people started. They should just sit back and get a piece of the revenue and "shut the front door" Sounds like they are getting nervous.
  2. Pete Austin from Triggered Messaging , March 12, 2014 at 6:36 a.m.
    @CBS: If you can provide an internet feed of your channels, please just do it. You would get additional viewers from outside the USA, including me, and extra sales for your big brand advertisers. No need to wait on Aero.
  3. Edmund Singleton from Winstion Communications , March 12, 2014 at 9:37 a.m.
    Anyone that is doing well in any business must know that it will not always be that way...
  4. Shannon Pedersen from Papa Murphy's , March 12, 2014 at 5:06 p.m.
    Did Mr. Moonves say this in the same breath he predicted (once again) CBS would have enormous CPM increases in the upcoming Upfronts??
  5. Paul Robinson from Viridian Development Corporation , March 12, 2014 at 8:52 p.m.
    Yeah, right, give up billions of dollars in over-the-air transmissions and advertising just to spite Aereo. My guess is someone will blink, either Aereo will start offering a small cut of revenue (the way YouTube decided to obtain a license for ASCAP music used on customer videos even though legally it's not required to do so), or the TV networks will come to their senses and realize the extra viewers mean they can increase their ad revenue.
  6. Paul Robinson from Viridian Development Corporation , March 12, 2014 at 8:57 p.m.
    This is no more stealing than when the Betamax decision (Sony v. Universal Studios) meant that the ability of the VCR to record TV shows meant revenue would be lost. Once households had VCRs, they wanted to do more than just time shift, they wanted to watch movies, which meant that now there was a new revenue stream: sale of movies after running in theatres and before selling them to television. Then television shows could also be made available, and the entire DVD market all because the networks "lost" the case that they could stop people from recording shows for personal use. They lost the battle, but they won the war of content and they won big, with all the new revenue streams that home entertainment gave them.
  7. Edmund Singleton from Winstion Communications , March 13, 2014 at 4:44 a.m.
    Thank you Paul Robinson; I can hear some say, what is that in front of me, why its my own nose...