CBS CEO Says Network Could Switch To Cable If It Loses Aereo Lawsuit

CBS and the other over-the-air broadcast networks are currently suing Aereo, the New York-based startup that transmits live TV over the Internet to subscribers who pay a monthly fee, but doesn’t pay anything to the broadcasters for doing so. Now, the head of CBS is saying the network might pull its signal off the air and go cable-only if it can’t stop Aereo.

“We’ve spoken to cable operators in New York,” said CBS Corp. CEO Les Moonves about pulling his network from the airwaves. “We can do it in a few days.”

At issue is the legality of Aereo. The broadcasters claim the company is illegally retransmitting their signals without paying. Aereo, which has a an array of tiny antennae, each dedicated to a single customer, maintains that it does not have to pay because it is doing nothing more than taking in the over-the-air signal via antenna and then sending it straight to the customer. The company holds that this is no different than having an antenna on the roof of a building.

“It’s illegal,” counters Moonves. “They’re taking our signal and charging people for it.”

In January, CBS told the editors of CNET, which is owned by the company, that they could not review Aereo while the lawsuit was pending. CBS had previously told CNET it could not review or give an award to Dish Network’s Hopper DVR for similar reasons.

Moonves’ comment comes only weeks after News Corp.’s COO made a similar statement, saying that the company would have to consider making FOX a cable-only network if the broadcasters fail in their bid to stop Aereo.

“This is not an ideal path we look to pursue, but we can’t sit idly by and let an entity steal our signal,” the COO said at the time. “If we can’t do a fair deal, we could take the whole network to a subscription model.”