Big Media companies shouldn’t be able to have a business “selling a 500-channel package to people who don’t want it,” Aereo’s Chet Kanojia told Wall Streeters today at the Citi 2014 Internet, Media and Telecommunications Conference which coincides with the International CES confab in Las Vegas. But the giants have a lot invested in their pay TV bundles and, as a result, are trying “to kill us through a war of attrition” with multiple lawsuits and appeals in different jurisdictions alleging that Aereo infringes on their copyrights when it streams their over-the air signals without payment. (Aereo says it leases the kind of equipment consumers clearly can use to watch broadcast TV for free.) “They’re driven by control,” he says. For example when cable first challenged broadcasters “the same set of issues emerged…Every technological issue starts with ‘the world is ending and we’re going to take our signal away.’ The reality is they prosper.” Kanojia rejects the idea that his service poses a threat to broadcasters’ efforts to secure higher retransmission consent payments from cable and satellite companies. “I actually think there’s going to be no impact on retransmission consent.” The reason: The TV industry is too concentrated. For example, a distributor can’t tell Disney that it wants ESPN but won’t pay for ABC. “You can’t get there from here.”
The U.S. Supreme Court could decide soon whether it will hear broadcasters’ appeal of district court decisions upholding Aereo’s right to operate. Kanojia hopes the justices do. “We believe in our merits and are comfortable with the record that’s been created” adding that “it’s better for the entire ecosystem that this is heard.” If Aereo is found to be illegal, he says, then it could call into question consumers’ rights for other media — including whether they can take a song purchased on iTunes and store it on Dropbox. “When consumers are moving media around that they lawfully possess, should there be a performance tax?” In the end, he believes that broadcasters will focus on ways to work with Aereo to expand their audience. And while he believes that Aereo’s patents protect it from copycat services, he says he wouldn’t mind if, say, Google built a similar service. “That would be an exciting day…More choice.”
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