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.
His comments come as the prospect of a digital pay-TV service appears closer than ever -- and yet still far away. It also ratchets up the rhetoric of executives like Moonves, who have said before that moving programming off the airwaves and onto a subscription service is an option should Aereo win.
CBS and other broadcasters are suing Aereo over its service using antenna and remote DVR technology to let subscribers watch live, local over-the-air television broadcasts, without making any payments to the creators of the programming. Though Aereo argues that its setup with one antenna per user is legal, the broadcasters claim the service violates copyright. The two sides are set to argue the case before the Supreme Court next month.
CBS is the parent company of CNET.
Moonves and other network executives have raised the concept of moving programming off the air and onto subscription-based systems like cable as a response to Aereo possibly getting the legal go-ahead to keep operating long term.
However, such a move would be complicated by implications of its own. The government, for example, granted broadcasters valuable segments of radio-frequency spectrum to carry their signals decades ago, provided that they also offer programming that serves the common good. Moving programming off the airwaves could call into question their hold on spectrum they're using less and less.
See also: Aereo's Supreme Court battle may change how you watch TV
The pursuit of digital pay-TV, long an aspiration for some of the biggest technology companies, advanced significantly last week as satellite television provider Dish Network unveiled a deal with the Walt Disney Co., owner of such networks as ABC and ESPN, that gave Dish the right to stream video, live and on demand, as part of an Internet-delivered television service. It represented the first content deal for an Internet pay-TV service to be made public so far, even as Sony plans to introduce a cloud-based TV service in 2014 and Verizon purchased Intel's project that developed technology for such an offering.
Still, the deal giving Dish the right to have Disney channels on a digital television service is a far cry from Dish actually offering one.
In the meantime, Aereo's Supreme Court case remains a question mark. Last month, a US district court granted the first preliminary injunction against Aereo out of the patchwork of lawsuits against the company, handing broadcasters their first clear legal win ahead of a Supreme Court fight. The court's decision will affect Utah, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Wyoming. Of the 11 cities where Aereo currently operates, Salt Lake City and Denver fall under the decision's scope.
Similar preliminary injunctions have been denied in the New York-based Second Circuit court of appeals and in Boston, something Aereo has touted as support for its legal status as it heads to the country's high court.