CBS' Moonves: Aereo never tried to work with us

ASPEN, Colo. -- Aereo never reached out to CBS to try to cut a content deal with the programmer, a step that may have altered the course of the startup. "We sell content to cable companies, satellite companies and the telcos and online companies," said CBS CEO Les Moonves. "We were open and willing to talk to them."

Les Moonves, CBS

Moonves (Source: CBS)

In fact, if Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia called Moonves today, he said he'd still be willing to talk to him. "The door was open and it is still open. I never received a call before. Ever," he said.

Aereo, of course, lost its battle against broadcasters June 25 when the Supreme Court ruled that Aereo's antenna-to-DVR-to-consumer service violated broadcasters' copyrights. The Court determined that Aereo's technology was similar to that used by cable companies to retransmit broadcaster signals, citing the 1976 Copyright Act amendment in issuing its opinion.

Since that decision, Aereo has paused its service and its fate is unclear. Last week the company asked a Manhattan federal court to classify it as a cable company, which would make it eligible for the same statutory license pay TV providers pay to transmit broadcast signals to subscribers.

At the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference here, Moonves reflected on the Supreme Court victory:  "We clearly felt that Aereo was taking content and sharing it illegally without paying us for it," he said.  But he admitted that the startup presented a good argument. "The issue got very confused.  They presented a very good case to the Supreme Court, but it wasn't fair.  They clouded the issue."

Specifically, Moonves took issue with people who felt that CBS and the other broadcasters were stopping innovation by shutting down Aereo. "They made it seem as if we stopped Aereo so we stopped innovation," he 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."

Although Moonves said he's still be willing to talk with Aereo about licensing CBS content, he said he believes they will have to dramatically change their business model to make it work. And when asked why CBS or the other broadcasters didn't investigate a way to deliver their content in a manner similar to Aereo, Moonves said he doesn't believe it's viable. "The reason this doesn't make sense is that 90 percent of people watching CBS are watching from satellite, cable or telco," adding that only a small percentage of viewers today get CBS via over-the-air broadcast. "I don't think it was something people were adopting," he said.

Full coverage: Aereo's Supreme Court loss and the fallout

Related links:
Aereo reinvents itself as 'cable company,' seeks retransmission license
Online video's course after Aereo
Aereo's Kanojia implores subscribers: 'Write your local congressman'
So it begins: Fox using Aereo precedent in battle against Dish