At Fortune conference in Aspen, CBS president discusses Supreme Court victory

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
CBS president and CEO Les Moonves Tuesday morning at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference at Aspen Meadows. Moonves discussed his company's recent Supreme Court victory over Aereo.
Stuart Isett/Fortune Brainstorm Tech |

The way we watch television and movies has rapidly shifted over the past five years, with the advent of on-demand and online streaming services. But a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in late June ruled out one new way to watch TV when it found the start-up Aereo was violating copyright laws with its television streaming service.

Aereo was selling small antennas to its subscribers, which captured broadcast signals and streamed television shows online.

The court’s 6-3 decision was a major victory for broadcast companies, but some have said the decision shut down an innovative way to bring content to customers.

CBS President Les Moonves said Tuesday at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference at Aspen Meadows that he was relieved about the court’s decision, and characterized Aereo’s business model as a high-tech form of piracy.

“We clearly felt that Aereo was taking content and sharing it illegally without paying us for it,” he said.

Criticism of his company for fighting new ways of viewing, he said, is misguided.

“They made it seem as if we stopped Aereo so we stopped innovation,” Moonves said. “If you want CBS content online there is a million places to find it. It’s unfair to characterize it as CBS is stopping innovation or not moving ahead. … We are in favor of innovation.”

The company sells content to cable providers and satellite companies along with streaming services including Amazon, Netflix and Hulu, he noted, while also streaming on its own website. If Aereo wanted to pay CBS for its content, Moonves said, CBS wouldn’t have a problem with Aereo’s technology.

“The door was open and it is still open,” he said. “I never received a call before — ever.”

The Fortune conference runs through today and includes panels with representatives from the business and technology world ranging from Twitter to Amazon, Instagram, Buzzfeed and Spotify. Last year, Fortune editor Adam Lashinsky noted, the lineup included a presentation from Aereo.