Aereo CEO Defends Business Strategy

In a heated conversation at Internet Week with USA Today’s Michael Wolff, Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia was repeatedly asked to explain why he’s not a “thief.”

“This is ludicrous,” said Kanojia,  expressing irritation at the notion that Aereo may be obligated to pay copyright fees. “Where do you draw the line?”

Aereo, which uses antennas to allow subscribers to view live broadcast television over the Internet, is in the midst of a Supreme Court battle with TV networks.

Because Aereo does not pay a fee for its content it is able to charge just $10 per month for its services. The court will be asked to determine whether Aereo should have to pay a content fee.

ABC, NBC, CBS and 21st Century Fox are alleging that Aereo has taken advantage of a legal loophole. Aereo contends that the use of antennas is within its rights.

“We would be the first and only company” required to pay copyright fees, says Kanojia. “I would be happy to pay the broadcast fees if they came up with a rule” that subjected the networks to the same obligations.

Kanojia suggests that the legal case is happening because “the world is changing and we’re trying to figure out what to do with this changing world. We started this business to force change.”

Kanojia believes that Aereo and television networks should have the mission of “providing a good product for the consumer at a fair price.” For Aereo, “the goal is not to make money as much as it is to make an alternative.”

When asked whether the legal obstacles keep him up at night, Kanojia seemed unconcerned. “We play to win, we optimize for a win and if we don’t we figure it out when we get there.”

Kanojia expressed optimism about the competitive landscape should Aereo clear regulatory hurdles. “It’s a very complicated technology,” so it would be difficult for new entrants to compete with the business, Kanojia claims. “We have the expertise.”

Aereo, whose investors include Barry Diller’s IAC, FirstMark Capital, and Highland Capital Partners, launched in February 2012. It is headquartered in Long Island City, New York.

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