Affiliates support Fox’s threatened shift to cable, pay TV

Network battling Aereo Inc. over broadcast rights

A scene from “Glee,’’ one of the hit TV shows that Fox is trying to protect from distribution on the Internet by Aereo.
Adam Rose/Fox
A scene from “Glee,’’ one of the hit TV shows that Fox is trying to protect from distribution on the Internet by Aereo.

LAS VEGAS — Television stations that relay Fox programming are ‘‘on board’’ with a threat to transition the over-the-air network to cable and satellite TV if Internet start-up Aereo keeps reselling Fox’s signal without paying for rights, the chairman of a Fox group said Tuesday.

Fox’s parent company, News Corp., owns just 27 of the 205 stations that carry Fox shows such as ‘‘American Idol’’ and ‘‘Glee.’’ The rest are affiliates that are independently owned or are part of chains of station owners. Steve Pruett, the chairman of the Fox affiliate board of governors, spoke about the stations’ support in an interview with the Associated Press on Tuesday at the annual gathering of broadcasters, the NAB Show.

Chase Carey, the chief operating officer of News Corp., raised the threat Monday amid a legal battle with Aereo. Carey said that if courts can’t stop Aereo from taking its signals for free and reselling them to customers, the company would have to make Fox a subscription-only network.


Haim Saban, chairman of the Spanish-language Univision network, echoed Carey’s sentiment.

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‘‘To serve our community, we need to protect our product and revenue streams, and therefore we too are considering all of our options — including converting to pay TV,’’ Saban said in a statement.

Pruett said that Fox TV stations could send out two signals — one to cable and satellite providers and another out over the free airwaves. Premium Fox programs could be reserved for paying customers, while the free-to-air broadcasts could be of lesser quality. Pruett said it was too early to go into details.

There wasn’t an entirely united front.

Bill Reyner, chief executive of Mission TV, which operates two Fox affiliate TV stations in Rapid City, S.D., said that while he understands Carey’s position and believes Aereo is infringing on Fox’s copyrights, he regretted that customers could be caught in the middle.


‘‘The real loser in all of this are those that can’t afford pay TV,’’ Reyner said.

National Association of Broadcasters President Gordon Smith said he believed the threat would not be acted upon, partly because the federal government regulates the public airwaves and free TV broadcasts are integral to that.