Milken Conference: Leslie Moonves Slams Aereo as 'Illegal'

Leslie Moonves

CBS Corp. president and CEO Leslie Moonves is the top-paid Hollywood executive of 2012 based on compensation disclosures so far. His pay declined 11 percent from $69.9 million in 2011, but his $62.2 million still once again made him the highest-paid CEO of a big entertainment company. Amid continued earnings and stock price improvements by his company, it was also ahead of the $57.7 million he had made in 2010.

The CBS chief said that if the networks lose in court, he will take the case to Congress.

CBS chief executive Leslie Moonves had a few choice words for Barry Diller and his Aereo property Tuesday.

"It's illegal. They’re taking our signal," he said on a stage in Beverly Hills at the Milken Global Conference.

That Aereo stories are "on the front of the trade papers every day is silly," Moonves said, given the company has been around for 18 months and has just 2,000 subscribers.

Moonves said if the networks lose in courts, he'll take the case to Congress, and consumers won't be happy if they lose access to CBS content because of a dispute with Aereo.

Diller, said Moonves, has "done what he likes to do: disrupt everybody."

He added, though, "We don't lose sleep" over Aereo.

"I don't think they’re going to hurt us with 2,000 subscribers in New York City," he said.

Moonves also declared that CBS' purchase of Syncback was in part a counter-move to Aereo.

"We just want to get paid appropriately," he said.

He also called Netflix "a friend and an enemy," given they compete with CBS and also buy its content. He praised House of Cards as a good show, but insinuated it's too expensive given it costs more to produce than does The Walking Dead and other hit cable shows.

Moonves also defended the tradition of upfronts, and noted that digital media has ironically joined the fray.

He defended and knocked cable simultaneously, but noting that some of the most popular programming on some cable channels are repeats of  network shows like The Big Bang Theory and NCIS.

Moonves was speaking duringa panel discussion called The Big Picture for Global Media and was on stage with Valhalla Entertainment CEO Gale Anne Hurd, Sony Entertainment chairman and CEO Michael Lynton and Clear Channel Communications CEO Robert Pittman.

Moonves called the international market "exceedingly strong," and tried to stop himself from saying too much about CBS financials given the company reports quarterly earnings on Wednesday, but he couldn't help hinting about strong CPMs and other metrics in the most recent quarter.

When the discussion turned to Hulu, which is for sale, Lynton said Sony isn't interested in buying it and Moonves insinuated the same about CBS.

Pittman reminisced about the old days -- a decade or so ago -- when all the talk was about a "wired home," whereas now all the rage is about wireless connections and content on devices far away from homes.

Lynton said mobile viewing of Sony's content in some foreign countries is beginning to contribute a meaningful amount of revenue.

He also said the mid-range budget movie is vastly underrated. You can make a $50 million that is for a specific audience and "clean up," he said, citing The Expendables from a rival studio.

Hurd said the loss of independent distributors is being replaced by VOD, and she also said that foreign films making their way  to the U.S. is an under-appreciated trend.

When moderator Julia Boorstin of CNBC asked Moonves why CBS is in the movie business, he quipped: "I ask myself that often."