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.