Jason Del Rey

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Diller, Zucker Talk Aereo, “Creative Destruction” and the “Poo-Poo Cruise”


Asa Mathat / AllThingsD.com

“It’s very overblown.”

That was Barry Diller at today’s D11 conference on the controversy over IAC-backed Aereo, the Internet video startup that streams broadcast television without paying the broadcasters retransmission fees. The startup has already scored several legal victories in federal court in battles with broadcasters that want to get retransmission fees.

“I don’t want to beat up broadcasters,” Diller said. “I want to help move the centricity … from closed systems.”

“The more you can get all forms of video over Internet protocol,” he added, “the better off the world will be.”

That stance, of course, doesn’t sit well with the kingpins of broadcast TV. Diller and Walt Mossberg were joined onstage by new CNN president Jeff Zucker, who said networks simply want to get paid for their intellectual property. But Diller contended that broadcast networks were always intended to sustain their businesses mainly on advertising revenue, and that the success of Aereo should only grow that pie.

Even if Aereo can avoid legal doom, its success is far from a certainty. Diller admitted that the service has “very few” customers, but that it’s early days. In a best-case scenario, he can envision a day in which the service creates its own programming if it can get into 15 million or 20 million homes.

But Diller also sees other powerhouses — Apple, Amazon and Microsoft — helping to lead us toward the future of TV.

“I think it’s exciting that there’s going to be some creative destruction,” he said.

For Zucker, the challenge is reinventing a once-shining cable star that has lost some luster. He argued that his cable network sees great opportunity to cover news outside of politics, as Fox News and MSNBC focus their efforts there. Part of that, he said, is creating new programming, such as Anthony Bourdain’s new show, to bring in new viewers. He said the new program — “Parts Unknown” — has attracted 4.5 million viewers who didn’t previously watch CNN.

Zucker became defensive when Mossberg brought up reporting inaccuracies that CNN has dealt with as it battles and pushes the 24-hour news cycle — namely that a suspect had been arrested shortly after the Boston Marathon bombings. Zucker pointed to the fact that CNN corrected its error within 45 minutes when others took hours to do the same.

“We made a mistake, we acknowledged it, we moved on,” he said.

Zucker also turned testy when asked by an audience member how the network balances the need to cover serious news with the lure of covering events such as the “poo-poo cruise,” which can lead to high ratings.

“Just because we were prescient enough to get to … that ship before anybody else,” doesn’t mean it’s not news worth covering, Zucker responded.

Full D11 Conference Coverage