Things are getting a bit messy as CES slowly wraps up. The annual CNET “Best of CES” award winners have been announced, but the big story isn’t about them (by the way, the Razer Edge won “Best in Show” and “People’s Voice” awards). The story focuses on a DVR product that was nominated, then lost its nomination after CNET’s parent company CBS Corporation had some objections to it.
The product in question was the the Hopper, a brand new HD DVR by satellite TV company DISH. The company said that this product would let you watch live and recorded TV from any internet-connected tablet, smartphone or PC; while also let you move any recorded show to view offline on an iPad. It also acted as a “media hub” where you could play any media from your phone to your TV. But the fact that you could use this to watch live TV on any internet-connected device was what won people over.
However, everything changed when DISH released a press statement saying that they had their nomination pulled, with the company saying that CBS had influenced their decision. In a statement, their CEO and President Joe Clayton said, “We are saddened that CNET’s staff is being denied its editorial independence because of CBS’ heavy-handed tactics. This action has nothing to do with the merits of our new product. Hopper with Sling is all about consumer choice and control over the TV experience. That CBS, which owns CNET.com, would censor that message is insulting to consumers.”
CNET did admit that CBS had some influence (direct or indirect, it is hard to say – but given that it was nominated then pulled, they might have been told by the higher-ups to remove it when they saw it). The tech site said at the bottom of the page, “The Dish Hopper with Sling was removed from consideration due to active litigation involving our parent company CBS Corp. We will no longer be reviewing products manufactured by companies with which we are in litigation with respect to such product.”
CNET further clarified that this applies to their reviews section, not their news section. In a tweet:
CBS is indeed engaged with a lawsuit (thanks BuzzFeed) against DISH over the Hopper – this new DVR announced at CES was the second-generation. And this is due to CBS’ objection to a feature called “PrimeTime Anytime” which lets you record all broadcast channels at once and skip all the advertising.
Tech blogging will inevitably mean there will be some conflict of interest – directly or indirectly. As BuzzFeed notes:
This is a constant fear for many tech writers — their jobs, more than many other in media, require them to cover companies they either work for, or which their employers interact with. Nearly every tech publication has conflicts of interest to wrestle with…
Most deal with it by being transparent. I personally have a conflict of interest of working for Dick Smith Electronics as a casual salesperson, and when I write about the company, I always declare that interest. It is the same as when I write about Monash University – which I have done twice. All Things D and TechCrunch also do declare their interests – and they still remain trusted and professional.
So what’s so different about this? They pulled an award at the last minute after their parent company told them to do so. It is a bit disconcerting, especially when CNET (and all of CBS Interactive) – one of the big players in the field – has some talented people over there who now have their name dragged down by this fiasco.
If CNET has a policy of doing this, then it would be fine. The only problem, they don’t and only applies to this one time at CBS’ insistence. As The Verge notes, there are no comparable restrictions on other products. This would have applied to the Aereo, a service that streams live broadcast TV on the web and mobile devices, should have not been reviewed – given that it filed a suit before CNET did the review. The Verge also notes that CBS did not want any quotes from CNET, ZDNet or any other tech publication it owns to give positive statements.
While CBS is free to do whatever it wants with CNET because they own it, this entire fiasco has damaged readers trust.
When it started, CNET was one in a few sites covering technology. Now, there is an explosion of tech blogs from Engadget, TechCrunch, The Verge, and us, techgeek.com.au – I mean, we’re technically in competition with them as well (not likely, we’re a small player). There is a lot more choice – and readers will probably switch away from CNET.