Leslie Moonves and Jeff Shell Defend Movie Industry, Blast Aereo for ‘Stealing’ Content

Les Moonves CBS Upfront
Brian To/FilmMagic

“Fifty Shades of Grey,” the Supreme Court Aereo case and DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg’s recent critique of the film business were among the many topics of discussion Wednesday morning at the Milken Global Conference’s “Entertainment: The Big Picture” panel.

Universal topper Jeff Shell and CBS chief Leslie Moonves (pictured, above) both disagreed with Katzenberg’s assertion that “movies are not a growth business.” Shell argued that while domestic ticket sales are flat, the film industry is “growing like crazy from an international perspective,” citing both Sky and Canal Plus as interested in talking about big movies. “That’s what they want from Hollywood,” he said.

“The future is extraordinarily bright,” said Moonves, who also admitted that CBS Films is “a tiny little film company that doesn’t even move the needle.”

Moonves became rather heated when discussing the Aereo case currently before the Supreme Court. “Aereo is trying to cloud the issue about what we do with our content because the law is not on their side,” he said, further explaining that companies like Netflix and Amazon pay CBS to use their content, while Aereo wants it free of charge. “It’s a kind of theft,” Moonves said.

Transforming CBS into a cable network was just one of the possibilities he threw out should Aereo win the case.

Shell immediately backed Moonves up, calling Aereo’s business plan to distribute content without paying for it “stealing,” although he then said, “I’ve been at the movie thing for seven months now.”

Shell also tackled both “Fast 7” and “Fifty Shades of Grey,” upcoming projects at Universal. He was proud of the way he, Donna Langley and Ron Meyer handled the death of the film’s star, Paul Walker, describing it as “act(ing) as a human being first.”

He also shut down the idea of issuing “Fifty Shades of Grey” as a day-and-date release. “’Fifty Shades’ is going to be an intimate movie best watched in a theater,” Shell said.

Moonves replied that a lot of people are going to “want to watch at home with their wife.”

Nancy Dubuc, president and CEO of A+E Networks, kept returning to the idea of owning one’s content outright, such as her company’s upcoming follow-up to the successful miniseries “Hatfields & McCoys” in which A+E is putting $40 million-$50 million.

“We have to do this things. We have to be in control of our destiny,” she said, discussing the growing importance of the backend versus the front end.

Moonves immediately agreed, adding that the prized 18-49 demographic is no longer the “be all end all” because revenue streams are changing.

While conversations around Netflix dominated this panel last year, this time around Moonves summarized it this way: “Who cares? There’s plenty of room for good content and competition. They’re paying us to carry our content and we love that” — another barb at Aereo.

When asked about the recent negotiation fallout between Time Warner Cable and local TV providers over broadcast rights for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Moonves said, “I don’t get Time Warner so I don’t watch the Dodgers,” adding that he’s on ESPN more than CBS.

Similarly, Shell said, “I run Universal, so I have no idea about that,” referring to the question of whether he would have purchased Disney’s recently acquired Maker Studios.

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  1. Martin Babka says:

    Boo-Hoo Broadcasters…You are just butthurt over the fact that someone outsmarted you. OTA transmissions are free, Aereo is just making them available to those of us who don’t get reception due to being in a valley, surrounded by trees, etc…Guess what, it’s time to reinvent yourselves and offer services a la carte like you should….

  2. Jym Segneri says:

    Cowards and jerks do not deserve my hard earned money. I guess he would know a thief, being one himself; I will gladly throw the same stones back at the ‘stone thrower originator’. I will not support attitudes and mockery and lies such as what these industry executives are executing… I look forward to their day of execution.

  3. DeeMan says:

    The airwaves have always been free, end of story, You can’t sue an electronics shop for selling Rabbit Ears which is basically what Aereo is doing. The airwaves are public and controlled by the FCC. If the content providers want to charge for their signal, they can just move to cable and free up the airwaves. They had a good run for a while by charging cable companies to transmit their signals but those days are coming to an end.

  4. Joe McG says:

    The broadcast model is simple… a network sends its signals over the airwaves to devices that can pickup those signals. The payment for that comes from advertizing (and in some cases a fee levied on the device). That’s been the long-held deal between broadcast networks and the public. So if that device is an actual a TV in my home or receiver in a data-center near my home, what’s the difference? Cable and Satellite… that’s different. They’re providing content ONLY available on those services. You want it, you pay for it (along with more advertizing, but that’s another story…). Cable and Satellite should get on the bandwagon here because there was a time when they didn’t have to pay broadcast networks to retransmit their local signals. Now they just cover-up the costs as fees paid for preferential location on the dial (as if that matters anymore…). Now if broadcast networks want to stop “broadcasting”, that’s their call… but they should have to give up that spectrum of the airwaves so the Government can re-auction it. And if I were an advertiser, I would look at those ad rates again, because even though it would be a small number of lost viewers, it’s still lost viewers.

  5. Many of us are just as happy to pay for our viewing. I don’t like the idea of paying to watch commercials so I dislike cable. I can watch commercials for free (over the air) I do pay for Netflix as the cost is reasonable (no commercials) and I will pay for TCM (Turner Classic Movies) if they ever begin to stream content like Netflix.

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