Diller defends startup Aereo, dismisses NFL complaints

Liana B. Baker
Media tycoon Barry Diller attends the performance of "One Night Only" benefiting the Motion Picture and Television Fund in Los Angeles
Media tycoon Barry Diller attends the performance of the one-man-show "One Night Only" benefiting the Motion Picture and Television Fund in Los Angeles October 12, 2013. REUTERS/Phil McCarten

By Liana B. Baker

(Reuters) - Barry Diller, the veteran media executive whose company is a financial backer of streaming television startup Aereo, said on Wednesday that the National Football League is "just making noise" in its threat to take its games off broadcast TV.

The National Football League, along with Major League Baseball, last week sent a legal filing to the U.S. Supreme Court throwing their support behind the broadcasters in a high-profile dispute with Aereo.

Aereo is an online streaming service that uses personal TV antennas to give subscribers access to free over-the-air broadcast channels for a small fee. It was sued by the broadcasters even before it launched in 2012.

The leagues said they would move all their games to cable if Aereo prevails.

Diller, speaking at a Bloomberg conference in Chicago that was also broadcasted on the financial information company's cable channel, said he doubts the NFL would never pull all of its games and the Super Bowl off free airwaves.

"They are just making noise. They are not taking their programming off of broadcast television networks. First of all, they make a fortune," Diller said.

Diller, who is chairman of media company IAC InterActivecorp, also said that the NFL has not owned up to being a "pricy game" that passes along the cost to consumers by asking for billions in fees from broadcasters and media companies.

A spokesman for the NFL did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

In October, broadcasters ABC, which is owned by Walt Disney Co, CBS Broadcasting Inc, Comcast Corp's NBC Universal, and Fox, asked the Supreme Court to hear their case claiming the online service steals copyrighted television content.

Diller said there's a "50-50 chance" the Supreme Court may take the case.

When asked about the startup's business plan, Diller said he could see Aereo reaching an audience somewhere in the range of tens of millions of people within three to five years. Aereo has never revealed its subscriber numbers but has been expanding steadily outside its home base in New York to cities such as Dallas, Houston, Miami, Atlanta, Denver, Salt Lake City and Detroit.

(Reporting by Liana B. Baker; Editing by Bernard Orr)