CBS Once Again Threatens To Move Content Off The Air If Aereo Wins; Why Is That A Problem?

from the give-back-the-spectrum dept

As the Supreme Court gets closer to hearing the Aereo case, CBS appears to be ramping up the crazy rhetoric, with CEO Les Moonves once again threatening to take its content off of its over-the-air CBS flagship and move it elsewhere.

CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves said Tuesday that his company’s namesake broadcast network could go “over the top,” or be delivered via the Internet, if Aereo’s model of streaming over-the-air programming is ruled legal.

Of course, Moonves has made nearly identical threats in the past, promising a year ago that it might just move all its content to cable if Aereo won. Elsewhere, CBS has admitted that an Aereo victory wouldn’t really harm the company, and actually might spur some innovation.

As we pointed out last time, if CBS is really so clueless that it thinks abandoning the free handout it was given by the US government in terms of a massive chunk of spectrum is the right way to respond to something like Aereo (which only increases the viewers of its free, over the air broadcasts) well, then by all means go for it. I’m sure plenty of others would leap at the opportunity of making use of that spectrum, either for broadcasting other content, or putting it to even better uses.

If you haven’t seen it, you should take a quick peek at the spectrum allocation chart for the US. You’ll quickly notice that there are some giant blue blocks, compared to basically the entire rest of the chart which is divided into tiny, tiny pieces. Those giant blue blocks are the spectrum that the US government handed out for free to radio and TV broadcasters, in part with the promise that those companies would broadcast content for free for the public good. Here, Moonves is more or less admitting that, despite that free handout (worth many billions of dollars if that spectrum were to be sold on the open market) and despite the requirement that content be broadcast for the public good, he’s willing to throw all of that away, because a tiny startup is getting his programming to even more viewers? Really? Does he even realize how ridiculous that sounds?

Either way, as we said last time, it’s time to call his bluff. If little tiny Aereo will have him deserting that spectrum, why not ask him to hurry up so that we can put that spectrum to much better use.

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Companies: aereo, cbs

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Comments on “CBS Once Again Threatens To Move Content Off The Air If Aereo Wins; Why Is That A Problem?”

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ltlw0lf (profile) says:

New FCC Unlicensed Allocation, coming from CBS band?

I hope the FCC adds that band CBS will be giving up to the unlicensed band for use in wifi and public networking spaces. We could really use more bands for the public use…

How many folks want to wager on how quickly CBS plays the Weather Channel “its a matter of life or death” card when they lose their bluff and have to go through with their threat.

Only thing I’ll miss on CBS is Big Bang Theory…but there is always reruns on other channels.

madasahatter (profile) says:

Village Idiot

What village is missing their idiot? Aereo, as noted in the article, is providing at least a better signal to potential viewers if not more viewer to CBS without CBS spending a penny. The only complaint any broadcaster would have is if Aereo only provides some of the local broadcasters. But that is not what CBS is claiming and I have not seen any reports where this is so.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:


“(worth many billions of dollars if that spectrum were to be sold on the open market)”

I understand that there are auctions for such a valuable commodity, but I think it might be better thought of as leased, even if for a one time fee. As pointed out above, we can always get it back. The spectrum belongs to the people, even if big broadcasting, the telcos and others claim to own it. They merely control it for the period they continue to satisfy the corrupt oversight agencies.

TasMot (profile) says:

We need an artist for a meme

I am no good at drawing or animated GIFs. Who can put together an animated GIF of a cartoon guy with Moonves’ head and yelling “I want my way or I’ll stop broadcasting. With a little bit of a 3 year old’s hysteria. There must be somebody with an artistic talent reading these comments that can create a little thing and put it up on YouTube. It could be an overnight sensation.

Rapnel (profile) says:

I'm lost

The thing is that these guys, “big broadcast?”, should be climbing up the backs of those guys that they rely on to tally their viewership in order to more accurately reflect the size of that viewership and thus price accordingly. So if eyeballs=dollars what the fuck is the problem here? Too many eyeballs? Wut? Aero makes a public broadcast more available that “sells” things based on viewership and ratings. The only logical result here is viewership increases thus making the broadcaster’s time more valuable.

The officers involved here are either completely and fantastically in over their heads, need huge write-offs or they’re simply being manipulated.

Strong public signal good. Public win. No contest.

CBS? Let them eat cake. If I want to watch person of interest I’ll read the NSA files. If I want to watch broke girls I’ll cruise youtube. Elementary? Sherlock, you jest.

They’re now in the Supreme Court of the United States and everyone wonders why people share. Business is booming in court and business leaders have their heads in their hands blocking their own vision.

If Aero wins or looses they’ve already lost and failed to recognize that regardless of outcome that CBS, broadcasters and their creators are in a brave new world and making enemies in it rapidly.

I’ll take the wire and choose my own ride, but thanks.

ECA (profile) says:


I dont know much about HOW the company is run..
But, I have garnered a few interesting things over the years..

There are 7-8 Companies that OWN the worlds TV broadcasting comapanies. THATS about 99%. Then there are a FEW private owners.

EACH broadcasting tower sends many signals. for many stations. IF those stations CBS owns go Black..What will they do? they are PAID UP to broadcast CBS. Yes, they PAY to broadcast the CBS signal. figure at least 1000 Broadcasters Affected. They all get to SUE CBS.
(I wouldnt want to be CBS)

For all the channels, I dont think CBS is the TOP of the heap, in that group for channels. I dont have the list of WHO owns WHOM..but they arnt on the TOP.

Lets go with LOCAL advertisers..
THAT is what CBS will loose. CABLE doent do it, and neither does SAT. Those 2 can only sell NATIONAL goods. They cant advert Joe Blow mechanic, down the street.
These also will be in the Line to SUE CBS corp. And will be a WHOLESALE LOOSE to CBS and the Local broadcasters.

Dear CBS,
I think you will Loose MORE then you will gain.
Think hard about it.

Point Missed says:

You Missed the point

“As we pointed out last time, if CBS is really so clueless that it thinks abandoning the free handout it was given by the US government in terms of a massive chunk of spectrum is the right way to respond to something like Aereo (which only increases the viewers of its free, over the air broadcasts) well, then by all means go for it. I’m sure plenty of others would leap at the opportunity of making use of that spectrum, either for broadcasting other content, or putting it to even better uses. “

I can’t say I am surprised to see you try to paint this as a black and white result, on the air or off the air. It shows perhaps how little you have really thought about this.

First, you need to look at the numbers. 85% of Americans get their TV through cable, sat, or IPtv. That number is pretty consistent, leaning a little more towards OTA right now because of better picture quality and people wanting to save money by not paying for cable. So the vast majority of the people watching CBS do it on cable.

So let’s say CBS creates something called CBS Premiere. It’s a cable and streaming internet channel (membership, naturally) that runs all the prime time programs first, perhaps one or two months before they go to broadcast. CBS network stays as an OTA network but clearly would be running a second run programming.

At that point, the only thing OTA stations become is a selling point for the cable channel, and a source of local news. The prime time lineup would be pretty much what’s on cable, a couple of months late.

There would be no returning of spectrum, nothing like that. Why would they? The could use the famous cwf+RTB here, using the free part to sell the real limited offer only available on cable.

The real effect of Aereo will be to harm those people who depend on OTA because they truly cannot afford cable. Driving the best content away from OTA and towards cable isn’t going to help them very much, will it?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: You Missed the point

And local ad revenue will suffer.

The less relevant CBS is in any given market, the less valuable their ad space becomes.

They might easily survive the lack of interest in their broadcast TV, but it’s going to further devalue their programming and ad space.

In the grand scheme of things, they are seeking to make themselves less relevant by doing this. You act as if there’s a reason to buy their network at all – if I was a cable/sat company, I’d be looking pretty seriously at the value I’m getting for my customers by carrying CBS – and starting to think of ways to reduce my costs here.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Re: You Missed the point

I fail to see how this will harm people that use OTA except to give them more free time to live their lives. CBS makes entertainment. It is neither essential nor valuable.

But yes, they will never give up their spectrum. The FCC would have to take it from them. There may be rules already to prevent what you describe – otherwise every broadcast channel could just become a commercial for cable.

Point Missed says:

Re: Re: You Missed the point

Yes, the lose some OTA ad revenue, and more than make it up on the other side by having the absolutely number 1 channel on cable by far, with all the top programs, the most desirable lineup on cable, competitive with the other OTA networks, and at the same time directly taking in revenue for the channel itself.

All this of course with all those OTA channels to promote the products. The net effect could very well be an actual increase in revenues, not a decrease, because the channel itself would collect at least some revenue per subscriber from the cable systems for carrying it, and that money would go directly to CBS and not the local affiliates.

Taken a few steps further, CBS could even set up a system when the cable feed is actually controlled by the local affiliate (for distribution to local cable companies) and would allow them to insert the local news and such simulcast to the local news. All of the benefits of OTA, without the restrictions, bypassing those who would pay for the service otherwise.

The capper? If the online version of the service offered similar options to Aereo, then it would be a slam dunk.

Anyway, all of this just to say that you don’t have to have much of an imagination to realize that CBS doesn’t have to choose A or B, they can choose a blended solution that doesn’t involve giving back spectrum or walking away from OTA. They only have to modify the way they do things slightly and use the cable distribution as the only place that new programming is released, and suddenly the value of Aereo’s product drops dramatically. Aereo without the networks would be about meaningless.

Anonymous Coward says:

CBS will lose tons of ratings if they do so

If CBS goes through with their threats, then me, a long time fan of their Survivor and Big Brother shows, will just stop watching them.

Aside from some weekend shows like SNL, and Fox’s Sunday night cartoon comedy shows like Family Guy/etc, I don’t watch anything on TV on a regular basis.

And no CBS, airing your stuff on the Internet only won’t work either for me. I tried that with Jon Stewart, didn’t work out, because I prefer to multitask on my computer when watching most TV shows.

Anonymous Coward says:

I call their bluf and raise them millions of angry shareholders

In an era of cord cutting CBS threatens to sever the cord-free wireless connection to millions of eyeballs they need to generate income from advertisements.

It will be fun watching the shareholder lawsuit coverage here on Techdirt, time to stock up on popcorn!

Anonymous Coward says:

Freeing up the spectrum...

I don’t think it would necessarily free up the spectrum. The licenses for the use of the spectrum are actually granted to the local stations that are affiliates of CBS. If CBS pulled their programming suddenly pulled their programming, what you would have is a bunch of stations that would suddenly have no longer have any affiliation. Granted they would be forced to find alternate sources of programming which would be difficult but not impossible to do. I would expect a lot of those local stations would band together to file a massive class action suit against CBS for breaching their contracts with the local affiliates as well.

Jonathan Bailey (user link) says:

This was never about Aereo...

If you think for a second that this lawsuit is about Aereo, you are mistaken. It’s not about a small startup that, as you said, may increase viewers to the broadcasters (provided it’s remotely successful).

The issue is retransmission fees. Those are worth billions to broadcasters ($4.29 billion last year alone as cable companies pay to carry the signals of CBS, etc. on their networks. If Aereo wins, those retransmission fees could go away should cable companies adopt similar systems.

Those retransmission fees, considering a vast majority of viewers watch TV through cable or satellite, are worth FAR more than the spectrum involved, the (relatively) few viewers that will be lost and any good will lost.

If Aereo wins and cable companies move to adopt Aereo-like systems, CBS would be foolish NOT to kill or scale back its over-the-air broadcasts.

The ethics of this can be argued all day, but the business sense is undeniable…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: This was never about Aereo...

Thank you for correctly framing the issue. Any other network would be fiscally irresponsible not to follow suit. They would strictly be making a decision to protect profits.

“because a tiny startup is getting his programming to even more viewers? Really? Does he even realize how ridiculous that sounds.”
Its actually far from ridiculous. I lived in a market where the local CBS affiliate refused to renew their contract with CBS. Another channel became the affiliate and what was left? An independent channel that had strong local news coverage and the rest of the programming was syndicated shows and infomercials.

DannyB (profile) says:

Dear CBS

Dear CBS,

If it isn’t Aereo, it will be someone else that streams your precious content, ads and all, rating increases and all, over them big evil intartubes.

Therefore, don’t wait for Aereo to possibly win this case. Be proactive. Move your precious content off the air NOW! Quickly! Before it is too late. Them big evil intartubes are coming for your content!

You will receive lots of thanks for taking this action. Your executives will thank you that they can sleep well at night, knowing the content is safe. Your advertisers will thank you that unauthorized people are not seeing their ads. Nielsen and other ratings organizations will thank you that their accounting is simpler. Television viewers will thank you — while they can no longer freely tune into your broadcast, they will feel safe knowing that all of the hoops they must jump through to register and pay to watch your content is for their own good. And finally everyone else will thank you for the spectrum that you return that can be put to better use than for endless spoon fed crap that actually makes people stupider the longer they watch.

Your ex viewers

John85851 (profile) says:


As some people are mentioning, has Moonves thought about how his decision will affect the local affiliates who pay to broadcast the CBS network shows?

If CBS stops broadcasting, can the affiliates switch to another network? Does any city need 2 stations broadcasting NBC or ABC? Or would the station become independent and see its ad revenue fall since it’s not showing any CBS shows?

But go ahead and make CBS an Internet-only station and show those Aero people you mean business.

Annette Lilly says:

The CEO of FreeCast, William Mobley, went on record about the news: ?We?re very excited to hear this kind of news and can?t wait for CBS & other broadcasters to go online. We have a couple million users who would buy this kind of service tomorrow if it were available.?

FreeCast is the content discovery & management engine operating the largest freely available Video On-Demand & Pay-per-view library of Rabbit TV.

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