LOS ANGELES (AP) — CBS Corp. Chief Executive Les Moonves gave an upbeat view of the health of broadcast TV Wednesday as the company reported strong results for the first three months of the year. He also dismissed startup Aereo as an "insignificant player" that was stealing CBS' signal.
Moonves told investors that Aereo has "gotten way too much attention" from the news media. The New York-based company takes broadcast signals for free from the airwaves and charges customers to watch them over computers and mobile devices. That threatens CBS' ability to collect fees from traditional service providers such as cable TV for rights to redistribute its stations' signals.
"We're not losing sleep over it. It is an insignificant player that has a couple thousand (subscribers)," Moonves said on a conference call. "We think ultimately that it goes away."
Broadcasters such as CBS have sued Aereo for copyright infringement, but so far Aereo has managed to keep operating thanks to a preliminary ruling in its favor last month. The company captures signals using thousands of tiny antennas, which it argues is comparable to individuals buying digital antennas for themselves.
Moonves echoed the comments of News Corp. Chief Operating Officer Chase Carey, who said last month that if Aereo gets a legal OK to keep operating, he would consider changing the Fox network to a channel available only through cable and satellite TV services.
Moonves said that making this switch at CBS would be "fairly easy to do" and not that disruptive because 85 percent of people who watch CBS do so through TV providers such as cable and satellite companies. But he added, "I'm very doubtful that happens."
Moonves' comments came as CBS, the maker of shows such as "NCIS: Los Angeles" and "The Good Wife," reported that first-quarter earnings rose 22 percent to $443 million, or 69 cents per share. Excluding a loss from the outdoor billboard business in Europe and Asia, which CBS expects to sell this year, adjusted earnings came to 73 cents per share, 5 cents better than the 68 cents predicted by analysts polled by FactSet.
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