The head of CBS is threatening to take his top-rated network off the air and instead offer TV programs directly to viewers on the Internet.

Tuesday’s comments from CEO Leslie Moonves center on the fight involving major broadcasters who are challenging Aereo’s use of their broadcast signals without paying for them. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case in April.

“If there are systems out there that try to hurt us, then we could go to OTT,” Moonves said.

OTT is an abbreviation for “over the top,” which in broadcast jargon means providing television over the Internet, outside of a pay TV subscription.

“If Aereo should work, if they should win, which we don’t think is going to happen, we could go OTT with CBS,” Moonves said.

“If the government wants to give them permission to steal our signal, then we will come up with some other way to get them our content and so get paid for it,” he added.

Les Moonves, CEO of CBS (image courtesy CNBC)

Aereo is a tiny startup backed by billionaire Barry Diller’s IAC/InterActiveCorp, which uses an antenna and remote DVR technology to let subscribers watch live, local over-the-air TV, without making any payments to the program creators.

This is not the first time Moonves and other executives have raised the possibility of going off the air and instead using cable subscriptions if Aereo is given the legal green light.

“However, such a move would be complicated by implications of its own,” notes Joan Solsman of CNET News.

“The government, for example, granted broadcasters valuable segments of radio-frequency spectrum to carry their signals decades ago, provided that they also offer programming that serves the common good. Moving programming off the airwaves could call into question their hold on spectrum they’re using less and less.”

Meanwhile, CNET says Aereo’s Supreme Court case remains a question mark.

“Last month, a U.S. district court granted the first preliminary injunction against Aereo out of the patchwork of lawsuits against the company, handing broadcasters their first clear legal win ahead of their Supreme Court appearance,” said Solsman.

“The court’s decision will affect Utah, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Wyoming. Of the 11 cities where Aereo currently operates, Salt Lake City and Denver fall under the decision’s scope.

“Similar preliminary injunctions have been denied in the New York-based Second Circuit court of appeals and in Boston, something Aereo has touted as support for its legal status as it heads to the country’s highest court.”

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